Majority favour a united Ireland, but just 22pc would pay for it

Exclusive Irish Independent/ Kantar poll shows 35pc in the North are in favour of Irish unification, with 43pc against

Two in three voters in the Republic support a united Ireland compared with just 16pc who are against it

Fionnán Sheahan

A significant majority of voters in the Republic of Ireland are in favour of a united Ireland – but are not willing to pay extra tax to fund it.

However, there is far from a majority in favour in unification in Northern Ireland itself.

An exclusive Irish Independent/Kantar poll of 2,250 people across the island suggests there is momentum behind the idea of holding a Border poll in both the Republic and Northern Ireland. The logistics of how a 32-county State might work are less clear.

Two in three voters in the Republic support a united Ireland compared with just 16pc who are against it. Opinions are more polarised in the North, with 35pc in favour of a united Ireland and 44pc against. The divisions tend to fall down along the usual religious and identity lines. Even among self-identified nationalists or republicans, just three in four opt for a united Ireland.

Notably, there is a sizeable one in five who don’t know and these tend to be people who don’t fall on traditional unionist or nationalist lines, but identify simply as ­Northern Irish.

It implies there is a growing middle ground in the North that is not as engaged on the issue.

Interestingly, more people in the North believe a united Ireland will become a reality in their lifetime than actually want it to happen – 39pc say it will happen versus 37pc who don’t expect it to. In the Republic, almost half of voters believe it is inevitable in their lifetime.

The poll also calls into question the stated policy of the Irish and British governments that a Border poll should not take place in the short term. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently stated that a referendum would not take place for “a very, very long time to come”.

This appears to be out of tune with people both north and south of the Border. Seven in 10 voters in both jurisdictions want a reunification poll to take place within five years. Opinion is still sharply divided in Northern Ireland.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the power to call a referendum on unity in Northern Ireland rests with the Northern Secretary of the British government. The Belfast Agreement says the Secretary of State should hold such a poll if they deem it likely that a majority of people in Northern Ireland would vote for a united Ireland.

Next year’s census is expected to show for the first time that the unionist population is in the minority.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin wants a united Ireland but says it is far too early for a Border poll as so much work has to be done to prepare for the prospect of unification and developing relationships with unionists. Mr Martin has set up a unit in his department to work on ways to co-operate across the Border and identify key issues that need to be addressed in the event of a united Ireland.

But on the question of finances, only one in five are willing to pay more tax to facilitate the merging of the two jurisdictions.

In the Republic, 54pc said they would be unwilling to pay more tax to fund a United Ireland. Just 22pc said they would pay more while 24pc didn’t know.

In the North, 63pc rejected the idea of higher taxes compared with 17pc who would and 20pc didn’t know. The jury is out in the Republic in terms of financial stability in the event of a united Ireland. In the North, over half believe they would be worse off. Just one in six see a rosy outlook. Opinions are again driven by political and religious motivations.

The exact cost of unification is not clear at all. At present, the UK puts an estimated €13bn per annum in funding into Northern Ireland. In the event of a united Ireland, there would be a significant gap in the Exchequer.

In Germany, to pay for unification, every taxpayer paid a solidarity surcharge called Solidaritätszuschlag, or Soli. The tax of up to 5.5pc of income is finally being phased out, 30 years later.

The financing of a united Ireland has not been discussed in any substantial manner to date. Just one in eight in the Republic are prepared to fully subsidise the North in the event of a united Ireland, and just half are prepared to put their hands in their pockets at all.

The partition of the island officially took place 100 years ago this weekend. May 3, 1921, was the day the legislation which devised the new political structures for Northern Ireland came into force.

But unionism is now in crisis amid the fallout from Brexit and the growing clamour for independence in Scotland. Next week’s elections to the devolved government in Scotland are viewed as a referendum on whether there should be another referendum on independence. Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster is standing down as leader of the DUP in the wake of a heave in her party. The border along the Irish Sea and the Northern Ireland protocol have increased tensions in the North, resulting in riots in loyalist areas. The failure to prosecute Sinn Féin members for breaching Covid-19 restrictions during the funeral of Provisional IRA commander Bobby Storey has also proven highly divisive.

The centenary poll is based on an island of Ireland study that was conducted by Kantar. The topics covered included issues of importance to the population, both north and south, attitudes towards a united Ireland, the desire for a potential Border poll, opinions on nationality and cultural identity, and the possible implications for a united Ireland. Due to Covid restrictions, interviewing was conducted as part of an online study among a representative sample of adults aged over 18 in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Quota controls were set to mirror the population profile of both the south and the north of Ireland. In addition, religious affiliation was identified in the North. 1,500 interviews were conducted online in the Republic with a corresponding sample size in Northern Ireland of 750 adults. Interviews were carried out from April 16-23 in the Republic of Ireland and from April 14-22 in Northern Ireland. Data was weighted to reflect the adult population.

Centenary Poll 1921-2021