A clear majority in Northern Ireland reject the idea of reunification, yet want British and Irish parties to stand for election in the province.
As the Queen prepares to visit Northern Ireland at the end of the month, she will no doubt be comforted by new polling out showing that a clear majority of people in Northern Ireland want to remain her subjects.
The poll, commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph and carried out by the Belfast based polling firm Lucid Talk, found that just 7% of voters in Northern Ireland would vote in favour of Irish unity this year. Asked how they might vote in a poll in 20 years’ time, the figure increases to 32%.
Whilst the findings showed that Protestants were, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly against Irish unity, the Catholic population was more divided. Just 7% of Catholics would vote for it now and a further 41% would opt for it in 20 years’ time. The paper goes on to state that:
“If these ‘don’t knows’ are ignored, 63% of people, including 44% of Catholics, want Northern Ireland to remain a separate entity even after 2032.”
With the proportion of Catholics calling for Irish unity in a minority, the findings are likely to prove an embarrassment for Sinn Fein coming not long after the party published its seven point plan for a united Ireland. It will also serve to undermine calls by the party for a vote on Northern Ireland’s constitutional future as early as 2016.
However, as the Conservative Party prepares to formally launch itself in Northern Ireland tomorrow, further polling indicates that almost half of people in Northern Ireland would like British or Irish political parties to contest elections in the region.
The paper notes:
“When asked whether parties like the Conservatives, Labour, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael should fight elections here all 1,267 people surveyed gave an opinion.
Just 40% said that only our own local parties should be on the ballot paper while 27% thought all named parties should stand, and an additional 16% wanted UK parties only, giving a total figure of 43% in favour.
For Irish parties the overall figure was marginally higher at 44%.”
The findings come as Labour’s National Executive Committee is engaged in an ongoing review of whether or not it should contest elections in Northern Ireland.
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Responding to the results, Ruairi O’Kane, the SDLP’s former Director of Communications, has today used an article in the Belfast Telegraph to argue for a full and frank debate over Northern Ireland’s future, before the terms of debate are hijacked by dissidents. He explains:
“With less than half (48%) of Catholics in favour of a united Ireland, even in 20 years’ time, never mind by 2016, it seems mainstream nationalist parties are out of step with their electorate. But we shouldn’t be surprised. How can anyone be expected to back something when they have no idea what it is they are meant to be supporting?
In reality, it has been many years since serious thought has been put into the actualities of a united Ireland by any of the nationalist parties.
Sinn Fein recently unveiled its seven-point plan for unity. However, their talk of consensus-building and persuasion only served to provide seven further examples of how far behind the SDLP it was on the issue, while the SDLP has failed to advance its policy since its 2005 publication of A United Ireland and the Agreement.
In the south, reunification is off the agenda in light of the financial crisis. However, deep and meaningful thought is still required on the subject and real and credible ideas are required as to how a united Ireland would function…Failing to start this debate and engaging in platitudes has a rather more serious consequence in that allows dissidents to fill the vacuum.”
Meanwhile, in an editorial, the paper goes on to lay down to challenges the poll findings produce for both the DUP and Sinn Fein, arguing:
“Both [parties] have played the border card often in the past. Sinn Fein continually argues that Irish unity is not only achievable but approaching. The DUP has never been slow to warn its supporters that they could be voted into a united Ireland at any moment unless they keep their guard up and make every vote count.
However the poll shows that the border is not a relevant issue and both parties would serve their constituents best by concentrating on day to day politics, seeking solutions to the problems of unemployment, scarce public resources, and the chaos in education.”