Thursday 14 December 2017

Northerners want a vote on removing the border

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Liam Clarke

A majority of people in Northern Ireland want a referendum on the border - but they don't want a united Ireland.

There is still a heavy leaning towards the North staying in the United Kingdom, including one in five Catholics who do not favour joining the Republic.

A LucidTalk opinion poll of 1,089 voting age people was carried out for INM at the time of the Scottish Independence Referendum, which was held on September 18. About half were interviewed before the referendum result was known.

People were asked if a vote should be held on whether to stay in the UK or join with the Republic.

With 'don't knows' excluded, over half the sample (56.2pc) said they wanted a referendum and 43.8pc didn't.

Four out of 10 Catholics were in favour of the idea compared with just 24pc of Protestants.

Some pro-Union people wanted a referendum to settle the question once and for all.

Support for a border poll was highest among the young - receiving a comfortable majority of both 18- to 24-year-olds (58pc) and those in the 25 to 44 age bracket (55.4pc).

This may reflect the fact that the majority of the North's population under 40 is now Catholic, but support was still considerable among older age groups.

Women (38.9pc) were considerably less supportive of a referendum than men (55.9pc). Some 17.2pc of women were undecided compared to 15.2pc of men.

However, support for Irish unity remains low.

The figures haven't changed much since a 2012 poll in the 'Belfast Telegraph', which asked if "Irish unity is a dead issue for at least a generation".

Respondents were asked how they would vote if a border poll was held under the Good Friday Agreement. They were given three options - yes for unity as soon as possible; yes for unity in 20 years' time; and no for Northern Ireland to remain in the UK.

Excluding the 'don't knows', 7.7pc wanted unity now and about a third (32.5pc) favoured it in 20 years, a more aspirational choice. Combining these two figure gives us just over 40pc support for unity at any time this generation, compared to 59.8pc favouring the status quo.

Support for unity was strongest amongst Catholics but not unanimous. Just under half (48.3pc) would vote for unity at any time, while just over a fifth (20.7pc) preferred UK membership. Amongst Protestants, this fell to 11.4pc. Some 30pc of both main religious groups didn't know. Women (31.9pc) were more pro-unity than men (27.2pc).

Despite the findings, the number of people living in Northern Ireland who regard themselves as being Irish is growing.

Irish was the chosen identity of 30.9pc, which was well up on 25.9pc from a similar poll last year or 25.6pc in the census. British identity also surged to 51pc - up from 42.2pc.

The number giving some other national identity had plummeted to 2.1pc from 11.9pc last year.

New talks on NI deadlock

Fresh talks to break the deadlock in the Northern Ireland peace process are to be launched.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said a new round of cross-party negotiations are to be convened.

They will focus on the outstanding issues, including disagreements on how to deal with flags, parades and the past, which she said were consuming ever increasing amounts of time and resources.

Speaking from New York, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the time was right for a new round of negotiations.

"Having spent a number of weeks consulting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland party leaders, I am strongly of the view that all party talks involving the two governments are required to overcome the current political impasse within the Northern Ireland executive - including on the legacy issues of parades, flags and identity and dealing with the past," he said.

Mr Flanagan is due in Washington today to meet with US Vice President, Joe Biden and Secretary of State, John Kerry.

Irish Independent

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