Belfast Telegraph poll: Rationality is replacing nationality as far as Irish unity concerned
Published 21/09/2013 | 00:00
There have been changes in the undergrowth in Northern Ireland that have not been properly evaluated yet, but there are strong indicators of them in this week's poll.
Consider traditional nationalism of a generation ago.
This assumed that Ireland had to be reunited to right an historic wrong, to restore a fractured nation and fulfil destiny.
The Republic was virtually a spiritual concept to those who declared its existence in 1916.
A hundred years later that vision is honoured, but how widely is it shared?
The poll tells us that only 3.8% of the population of Northern Ireland would vote us into a united Ireland right now.
Some say that is not an exciting finding because, of course, this is a bad time for unity.
It would not have been a bad time for people out of the mould of de Valera and the IRA of just 20 years ago.
For them, Irish unity was worth sacrificing for, spilling blood for, dying for.
Now we have a Northern nationalist population which, if it wants unity at all, wants to check the bill first.
But some who are called nationalist aren't nationalistic in their thinking at all.
If only 22.3% want a united Ireland in 20 years from now, then many of those who vote for parties committed to it are voting with their fingers crossed behind their backs, hoping that it will never happen.
And 30% of people here don't even have a settled opinion on the matter.
What this means for political parties is that they have to reassess their own positions.
Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein, to varying degrees, promise to bring us to the new single jurisdiction Ireland and want a discussion with unionists on how to persuade them. But what is the point of formal discussions on an issue so bereft of urgency as this one?
Both parties can comfortably stop talking about it, and should do so if they want to pick up votes across the community.
Unionists can also shut up about the threat to the Union that has sustained them for decades because no such threat exists. All that ‘this we will maintain' stuff can go.
Anyone who takes to a platform now promising to hold the line against the threat of being subsumed by stealth or overwhelmed by arms or betrayed by perfidy into Dublin rule can now only sound like a buffoon.
There is no threat to the Union.
It will be difficult for some to get used to that fact.