Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Poll: Northern Ireland still wants devolved government

As more questions are assessed, the picture of opinion here, and possible directions for political change, builds up.

Monday’s headline showed falling interest in Irish unity.

We highlight widespread dissatisfaction with the operation of the Assembly and a desire to cut the number of people working in it.

Yet most people want it to continue.

There are some signs of a growing Northern Irish identity but it is based on the accommodation of interest set out in the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreement.

People, particularly Catholics, remain nervous of kicking away the safeguards that are built into the system, however unwieldy they may seem.

Both communities are keener than many commentators realised to have their cultural identity recognised in government by the use of Irish and Ulster Scots.

Such things touch a raw nerve among more people than actually speak the languages with any fluency.

If we take away such props before people are ready or start unravelling the complex deal now in place, then all bets are off.

Without the guarantee of power sharing at Stormont, support for Irish unity could start to rise again and the all- but-vanished unionist siege mentality could rise alongside it.

Such considerations may explain the low level of support for an official opposition at Stormont.

An opposition is something which most societies regard as essential to democracy.

It facilitates scrutiny of government and allows the government to be changed when it becomes stale, exhausted or corrupt.

It is generally accepted that after two terms, sleaze and the arrogance of power creeps into most administrations.

Here there is a greater fear than stale or sleazy government.

It is the fear that one community will dominate the other or exclude it from power as happened to nationalists for most of the history of this state.

While religion remains the main determinant of voting intention, that remains a possibility.

There are signs that this dynamic may change in time, but they are tender shoots and could be killed off by a hard political frost.

A small minority of people say that they may vote across tribal lines and larger numbers in both communities are opting out of voting altogether.

Many would like to see British and Irish parties, organised more on economic lines, contesting elections.

The possibility of challenges from new political forces or further growth by Alliance may encourage established politicians, including leaders of the big parties like Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, to go after votes outside their traditional support base.

With nearly half of people not voting, most of them women, it could pay to be creative about the sort of candidates they field and the policies they promote.

Politics are no longer frozen as they once were, but change takes time.

Politicians and movements who can catch and channel the mood will do well.

For full statistics analysis visit Lucid talk

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