Belfast Telegraph

Hope grows for a shared identity

Editor's Viewpoint

The results of our third annual opinion poll make for fascinating reading, particularly in the wake of the recent Scottish referendum. A large majority in Northern Ireland has expressed a preference for a border poll, but it is also significant that only 7% would vote for Irish unity now.

There is little doubt that if a referendum was to take place in the very near future, Irish unity would be strongly rejected, and that it be would unlikely to become a knife-edge issue for at least a generation.

This outcome is not likely to impress Sinn Fein, but the party can take some consolation from the number of people who expressed a wish for a border poll.

There is undoubtedly a significant section of Northern Ireland voters who want to have a grown-up debate about constitutional issues in the way that the people of Scotland discussed their differing aspirations.

A poll would give people here a chance to think deeply about their identity and how they want to be governed in the longer-term future, instead of turning away in exasperation from the empty politics of Northern Ireland, which many have been doing.

At some point the people may express even more strongly their wish for a border poll, though that has to be balanced against the likely heightening of tensions which such a survey might bring.

Just as the politicians in Westminster were greatly challenged by the Scottish referendum, and will continue to deal with the aftermath of the vote for some time to come, the politicians of Northern Ireland would also be challenged by a poll on such a major constitutional issue here.

In terms of identity, the poll shows a decline in the numbers of people who regard themselves as "Northern Irish", though this is countered by the finding that roughly one-fifth of those between 18-24 are comfortable with a "Northern Irish" identity.

This gives some grounds for hope that a shared identity would be more acceptable to the coming generations.

Overall, however, the poll shows that the status of Northern Ireland is secure for the foreseeable future and, in fact, well beyond that.

There is certainly less need for the depressing whataboutery of orange-green divisions, and an urgent requirement for grown-up politics to tackle some of the urgent issues which face us all.

The border is a reality, but it should not dominate so many of us so much of the time.

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