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Findings 'sink Sinn Fein's hopes of referendum on Easter Rising centenary'

By Adrian Rutherford

A poll showing the majority of people don't want Irish unity underlines Northern Ireland's strengthening position in the UK, unionists have said.

The Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk survey of more than 1,000 people found 60% want to preserve the status quo.

DUP MLA Alastair Ross said the poll backs up other surveys showing consistently high levels of support for remaining within the UK.

He said it made Sinn Fein's hopes of a border poll by the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016 appear absurd.

"The trend indicated by all of these polls is not one of Northern Ireland moving towards a united Ireland, but of strengthening our place within the UK," he said.

"Surveys such as this highlight the sectarian attitude by some who rely on demographic change to deliver a united Ireland.

"This survey once again shows high levels of support right across the community for our constitutional position and the target date of 2016 once set by Sinn Fein now looks absurd."

Asked if a referendum on a united Ireland was called, just 5.7% said they would vote to leave the UK. Another 24% said they would vote for unity in 20 years' time.

The majority (44%) said they would vote for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK.

Another 26.3% said they held no opinion.

When the 'don't knows' were excluded, it leaves 59.8% opposing unity at any stage in the next 20 years.

The Secretary of State can call a border poll at any time, according to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

A referendum would be called if it appears likely a majority of those voting would seek to form part of a united Ireland.

However, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said there was no evidence to allow a border poll.

"It's time for Sinn Fein to get off their one trick pony and concentrate on getting down to solving the very real issues that face this Assembly," he said. "Continued calls by Sinn Fein for a border poll is simply an attempt to mask the failure of both the IRA's campaign and Sinn Fein's own position at Stormont, where they are locked into a partitionist solution which recognises Northern Ireland's position as part of the United Kingdom."

However, Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew said there was a growing need for a full and inclusive debate.

She said there was a clear demand for a poll.

"The debate for a border poll has been ongoing and there is growing evidence that people wish to see this happen," she said.

"The debate has gained momentum given the historic nature of the referendum in Scotland.

"It is now time the people of Ireland be allowed to exercise their right to determine relationships across the island of Ireland and with Britain.

"The clearest way to gauge public opinion is to ask. Let the people have their say in a full and inclusive debate."

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood admitted many nationalists still needed to be convinced of the benefits of a united Ireland.

But he pointed to the recent Scottish referendum, which saw support for independence jump from 22% to 45% in two years, as evidence of what could be achieved with a proper debate.

"With the economy the way it is in the south, and without us really making the case or real debate around the issue, I wouldn't expect there to be a majority or even large number in favour of Irish unity," he said.

"Brid Rodgers said the night before the Good Friday Agreement that we needed to become persuaders for Irish unity.

"I think that is true, but we need to pick up the mantle and show that a united Ireland is a very positive thing.

"There is no point in having two health services, two tax systems and two education systems on this island.

"However, we recognise there is massive work to be done to convince people."

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