New poll findings highlight a diversity of opinion over whether the province will still be part of UK in 2021
The people of Northern Ireland are split on whether the province will survive as a separate entity until its centenary in 2021, a Belfast Telegraph poll has revealed.
At the start of a week of celebrations marking St Patrick’s Day, the poll sheds new light on the long-standing question of nationhood in Northern Ireland.
It provides another fascinating snapshot of public opinion at a key time in our political history.
The vote is split — 42% agreeing and 42% disagreeing — on whether Northern Ireland will still be part of the United Kingdom by 2021. One in four Protestants (24%) said they thought there will be a united Ireland by then.
That year will mark 100 years since the Government of Ireland Act — which created Northern Ireland — came into force.
The poll also flags up the impact of the economic downturn in the Republic, with 55% of Catholics admitting a united Ireland is less likely because of its fiscal struggles.
Today’s survey is the latest in a series of Belfast Telegraph/Inform Communication polls which examine public opinion in post-devolution Northern Ireland.
The majority of respondents, 55%, believe Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK.
Asked how they would vote in a future referendum on a united Ireland, 36% said they would opt for unification. A breakdown shows 69% of Catholics in support of a united Ireland, with one in four stating Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK.
The last referendum on Irish unification was held in 1973 and found 98.9% in favour of Northern Ireland staying part of the UK.
However, the poll was boycotted by most nationalists, and represented around only 57% of the electorate at the time.
There have been growing calls for another referendum in recent years.
In 2002 then Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble said a referendum would cement Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.
Meanwhile Sinn Fein minister Conor Murphy has also spoken about his hope that a referendum could be held before 2016.
The Belfast Telegraph survey confirms that nationality remains a key issue for people here.
Questioned on its relevance, 56% said it was “very important” with a further 32% describing it as “important”. Amongst Protestants, there appears to be a generation gap with 94% of those aged 65 and over describing it as “very important”, compared to 38% of those aged between 18 and 29.
Some 39% of those polled describe their nationality as “British”, with a further 18% stating they are “Northern Irish”. Again, there is a significant difference in responses from people of a certain age. Older people are more likely to consider themselves British, with those aged between 18 and 29 instead opting for Northern Irish status.
Meanwhile 42% said they considered themselves Irish, the vast majority (83%) being members of the Catholic community.
The opinion poll was undertaken by public affairs consultancy Inform Communications over the period March 8-11 2010. Across Northern Ireland 1020 adults were interviewed.