As part of our pulse of the island’s attitudes towards how we view ourselves 100 years on from partition, this Sunday Independent/Kantar poll has unmasked some viewpoints that possibly seem counterintuitive.
Conducted up until last weekend, 2,250 people were surveyed on both parts of the island.
Some things are clear: the majority in the south (67pc) aspire to a united Ireland, but in a nuanced way; aspiration is the key word here.
Delve deeper and it is quite clear that this is only a notional desire.
We are unwilling to foot the bill so when reality bites we will more than likely baulk at this option, as we recognise the deep caveats attached.
In essence we are unwilling to pay for it through our taxes: over half — 54pc — are against such an option, and we certainly don’t want to subsidise the Northern economy. In addition, we fear that such a reunification would lead to a return to violence.
So, in some ways, why bother?
Northern Ireland, as always, is a more complex picture. While there are the obvious and expected schisms there is evidence of undercurrents that may not have been as apparent in the past.
Asked who we believe to be honest brokers in all things dealing with the North, one in four northerners (24pc) believe that the Irish Government deserves that title (with 41pc expressing this opinion in the south). Contrast this when the same question is asked of whether the British Government is an honest broker. Just 18pc in the North have faith in the Johnson administration.
That is where the confidence in the unionist faction begins to unravel somewhat. Less than three in ten (27pc) of unionists are surefooted in their appraisal of London. Hardly a ringing endorsement. Unionism feels rudderless and vulnerable, due to what has happened in the aftermath of Brexit and the protocol mess, but also due to changing societal norms.
There are more fundamental shifts for both traditional unionism — and for that matter nationalism — to worry about.
The traditional duopoly in Northern Ireland seems to be fraying. A hundred years on since partition, the assumed green vs orange, Catholic vs Protestant, is being eroded, emotionally at least.
For a growing swathe of the Northern Irish population, the days of being categorised in such a binary manner are weakening.
There are several signposts in this poll that suggest this to be the case. When asked about their political leanings, it is more or less a three-way split — 36pc are of a unionist persuasion, 33pc are nationalist orientated, and 32pc are neither.
This was highlighted in the 2019 British general election results — the middle ground Alliance Party surged, with the DUP and Sinn Féin both seeing their share of the vote drop significantly compared with the 2017 general election. It seems that, ideologically, the North may be gravitating away from the previous assumptions. If this is not just a blip, then the entire paradigm of traditional hypotheses may need to be reassessed.
Likewise, when asked how they identify themselves in terms of citizenship, it is pretty much a dead heat again — 33pc feel they are British, 28pc feel they are Irish, but 33pc feel they are Northern Irish— blurring the lines somewhat.
But there is no doubt that it is unionism that feels less secure. There is also no doubt that on the basis of these results, a united Ireland is not going to happen anytime soon.
Brexit has caused untold damage to the perceived strength of the union. A healthy majority on both sides of the Border believes Brexit could accelerate a united Ireland. A not insubstantial 43pc from the unionist community agree — they now see that Brexit has had unforeseen consequences.
But let’s look at some of the figures from the south that could assuage such fears. We have already seen that in the Republic, we like the idea of a united Ireland, but on paper only.
We also acknowledge the sense of British identity that unionists have — 51pc agree with this, compared to less than one in five (19pc) disagreeing.
On the emotive issues of flags and symbolism, many in the Republic (37pc) are quite prepared to consider creating a new flag to reflect and accommodate both traditions on the island.
Most significantly however, is when we ask about a hypothetical Border poll, and how it should be decided. Both regions are extremely wary of a straightforward majority deciding such a scenario — we are fearful of the implications that such a development could ignite. Less than two in five (38pc) in the Republic are in favour of such a sectarian headcount — reflecting a maturity towards the intricacies at hand. Again, it points back to a sense of pragmatism outplaying our sense of patriotism.
Even more striking is that in the Republic 36pc believe that such a plebiscite should be carried by a two-thirds majority, and a further 45pc go even further: a 70pc majority would be a safer deal.
So on the face of it, it looks like that a united Ireland is not on the horizon anytime soon. While unionists may be tearing themselves apart with angst about their existential future and the threat from the south, the reality is that in the main they have a rather benign and disinterested “enemy” at the gate.
Paul Moran is an associate director with Kantar