Belfast Telegraph

Is Catholic support for a united Ireland on the wane?

By Connla Young

There are some questions that just won’t go away.

But a major survey this week seemed to suggest that the age-old debate over a united Ireland could finally be running out of steam.

As reported in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, a major survey has found that the majority of Catholics polled now do not want reunification.

The Life and Times survey claimed 52% of Catholic respondents wanted to remain in the United Kingdom, with just 33% admitting to wanting a united Ireland.

In contrast, just 19% of Catholics questioned by the same survey team in 1998 favoured the UK connection, while 49% claimed they wanted a united Ireland.

The survey, which was carried out by Ark, a joint project by Queen’s University and the University of Ulster, also found that 90% of Protestants questioned said they wanted Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom. The poll was carried out between October and December last year and over 1,205 adults were questioned.

Reaction to the survey has been mixed with politicians and commentators suggesting a series of reasons for the dramatic drop in support for reunification.

Most point to the turbulent economic climate in the Republic coupled with continued political stability in Northern Ireland as the main reasons for the shift in attitudes.

But the border question clearly still stirs emotions with hundreds of readers posting their comments on the poll results on the Belfast Telegraph website.

One angry reader posted: “Polls are useless — all stats can be twisted to show anything you want them to. I could get a poll done that would show the opposite. As a Catholic and a nationalist none of my similar friends or family are reflective of this poll. This poll might be believable if there were a few who wanted union with the UK but none do. All are in favour of a united Ireland.”

Another said: “Here is a clear message to the unionist parties to become more attractive to Catholic voters, to encourage them to vote unionist. I for one would welcome with open arms more people of the Catholic community into the unionist family.”

Another Catholic reader posted: “This confirms what most of us already suspected for some time. As a Catholic, I have considered myself a unionist (small ‘u') for years, having absolutely no interest in a united Ireland unless the Republic chose to rejoin the UK. For many of us the Republic became an irrelevance long ago.”

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