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United Ireland poll: We are not at peace with ourselves

By David Gordon

For both unionist and nationalist politicians, the new Belfast Telegraph poll contains reasons to be less than cheerful.



Of course, both sides will be able to put a positive spin on some of the findings.

Unionists can point to 26% of Catholics saying they would vote for Northern Ireland staying in the UK.

Nationalists meanwhile could well take encouragement from 24% of Protestants believing Northern Ireland will not exist by 2021.

However, that figure should be set aside the much smaller 6% of Protestants who said they actually want Irish unity. The contrast between the 6% and 24% contains challenges for both sides of the divide at Stormont.

For the unionist parties, it suggests that a sizeable chunk of their community has not been convinced by assurances that the future of the Union had been secured.

Meanwhile, republicans and nationalists may want to reflect on the fact that the overwhelming majority of Protestants — 85% — still prefer the link with Great Britain.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was being feted in Boston yesterday, as he talked up the prospects of Irish unity to a St Patrick’s Day breakfast.

Back home, however, the vast bulk of Protestants are still not even close to buying the notion. Given that Sinn Fein is now signed up to the principle of consent, this would seem to present something of a technical difficulty for the republican ideal.

Not to mention that one in four of Catholics said they also would vote for remaining in the UK.

The poll can be viewed as a setback for those who hope to see a new cross-community Northern Ireland identity emerging. Regionalism is very much on the agenda across the UK these days, with devolved bodies firmly established in Scotland and Wales.

Almost three years on from devolution returning here, just 18% of those surveyed described their nationality as Northern Irish. For Catholics, the figure was a mere 9%.

Overall, the poll gives an impression of a Northern Ireland not at peace with itself, with nationality remaining a major fault line of political division.

No change there, then.

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