Thursday 21 November 2019

Eilis O'Hanlon: Few would be willing to pay more tax for a united Ireland

Poll on the future of North-South relations produced some surprising conclusions

Eilis O'Hanlon

Even the most trenchant critic of Irish nationalism would have to admit it's a little incongruous that the entire fate of the country should rest in the hands of a woman who is directly descended from a family whose number included the lord lieutenant of Ireland during the Great Famine; but that's the way it is. What's more, we all voted for it as part of the Good Friday Agreement, which gave the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland – aka The Right Honourable Theresa Villiers, great-great-etc grandsomething of our one-time Famine overlord – the final say as to when a border poll can be called.

That doesn't stop the rest of us having an opinion on the matter, of course, though on the evidence of the latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll, it's not something that exactly keeps us up at night with worry. Forty per cent are in favour of Northern Ireland having a border poll; 36 per cent are against. Let's call it a score draw.

Even supporters of Sinn Fein, which has made the call for a border poll a cornerstone of its preparations coming up to the centenary of the Easter Rising, don't seem overly enthusiastic. At 49 per cent, Shinner support for a border poll isn't even breaking through that psychologically crucial one-in-two barrier.

Given the low support for a united Ireland in the North itself, maybe they're just more realistic than their leader, Gerry Adams, whose own apparent obsession with the idea was described by Associated Press this week as "quixotic". And that's the polite way of putting it.

Which isn't to say we don't want a united Ireland. One day. Over 60 per cent of those polled would like to see North and South getting back together, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton after a particularly painful break-up, with only 16 per cent firmly against. It should be stressed, however, that only 37 per cent of those who do want it, want it right now. The others would rather wait for the medium or long term.

Support for unity is, at 74 per cent, predictably highest amongst Sinn Fein supporters than those of other parties, though they're not that far ahead of Fianna Fail voters (69 per cent) – and, interestingly, 10 per cent of Sinn Fein voters also admit they don't want a united Ireland at all.

The leadership tends to scoff when presented with such evidence, as if it's absurd to suggest anyone would vote for Sinn Fein whilst opposing the very reason the party was formed, but they're only doing down their own voters in the process. Opposition parties often pick up votes from voters dissatisfied with the government and the state of the economy, without going along wholesale with every manifesto pledge. If they're voting for you, be grateful, don't imply they don't know what they're doing.

Especially not when the 74 per cent of Shinners who do want a united Ireland don't seem that keen on making any sacrifices to get it. In that, they're entirely in tune with the mood of the country as a whole. Asked whether we want a united Ireland, our first response, regardless of party affiliation, age, sex, location, or occupation, appears to be a suspicious: What's it going to cost?

Those polled were asked a very simple and direct question: Would you be willing to pay higher taxes in return for a united Ireland? When sentiment clashes with pocket, the results are bound to disappoint idealists. A measly 11 per cent of us are willing to pay higher taxes for unity, with 67 per cent saying no and a further 14 per cent who weren't ruling it out entirely but presumably wanted to see the nitty gritty.

More Sinn Fein supporters are willing to pay extra to fulfil the republican dream, but only just (15 per cent, against 65 per cent who aren't about to cough up "one red cent", as Gerry might put it) – and they're still trailing behind the 16 per cent of Fianna Fail supporters who are prepared to dig deep for unity.

Seems like the battle for the rightful owners of the title 'Republican Party' has been won by the Soldiers of Destiny.

As for which of us is least keen on paying extra taxes to put the national question to bed once and for all, that would be farmers. A whopping eight in 10 of them are less than thrilled by the idea of chipping in to the cost of getting the Brits out.

My favourite detail in the small print of this poll, however, has to be the existence of one sole respondent who declared that he (as I think of him) was opposed to a united Ireland but was willing to pay higher taxes for it. Some might see that as confused. I see him instead as a man who knows it doesn't really matter what he believes, he's going to end up footing the bill anyway, so he might as well just accept it. That man represents the soul of a battered nation. I don't know who you are, sir, but we all know how you feel.

Irish Independent

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