Belfast Telegraph

Exclusive opinion poll: Do we need a border poll, how do we deal with Ardoyne and do we need a new Northern Ireland flag?

There is little agreement in Northern Ireland about how our society should be run

By Liam Clarke

This week, we publish a major opinion poll which we believe will inform debate and bring some clarity to the political discourse at a critical juncture for Northern Ireland's future.

We are all facing comprehensive political talks, a full-blown financial crisis and a question mark over the future of our devolved institutions.

Do we need a special process to deal with parading in north Belfast at this point? Do we need a border poll, like the referendum in Scotland, to settle the constitutional issue? How about a new Northern Ireland flag as recently suggested by Ivan Lewis of the UK Labour Party? Most pressing of all, how should we tackle the vexed issue of welfare reform, which threatens our institutions with collapse?

These are some of the questions politicians have failed to agree on and which they will have to wrestle with in the run-up to May's general election.

Opinion polls oil the wheels of politics in most societies, but they are rare in Northern Ireland. In their absence, political parties rely on feedback from their activists and core supporters. The DUP have, for instance, recently had an extensive survey of its entire membership carried out. Sinn Fein and the other political parties are also plugged in to what their grassroots are thinking.

But that isn't good enough because it misses what the whole community thinks. Nearly half our population does not vote, and their views don't register with political decision-makers as a result. Older people are over-represented among voters, but what do the young think?

To find out, the Belfast Telegraph has commissioned a full opinion poll from LucidTalk. We will publish the findings, with extensive commentary, next week. We have commissioned further specialist polling and samples of opinion in the coming months.

Some of the questions, such as voting intention or support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage and abortion, mirror questions we have asked in previous polls. That allows us to plot trends and show where opinion is hardening or changing, and what different groups think.

Among the most pressing of these repeat questions for politicians is how people rate the performance of the Assembly compared to direct rule from Westminster.

In the past, the Assembly has fared badly. But will people rally to it now it is under threat? Or is enthusiasm for our system of government declining after the First Minister described as "not fit for purpose"?

A new question relates to parading in north Belfast. We asked a representative sample of 1,089 people about the Orange Parade by the Ligoniel Lodges, which has been a bone of contention for several years. The choices on offer were "the parade should be allowed to return past the Ardoyne shops, the parade should not be allowed to return past the shops, the Ardoyne parades issue should be the subject of a separate independent inquiry with the power to investigate and report back on solutions to the dispute, and that we should leave the decision in the hands of the Parades Commission next year".

The commission of inquiry idea is being promoted by the Secretary of State. But has it any real traction?

As there is a Sinn Fein campaign for a border referendum, we asked our sample both whether they want to see one held and how they would vote if there was one.

We will be able to cross-reference the results by national identity, religion and age to see where opinion is strongest or where it is shifting.

It will give a fascinating snapshot of a society in transition.

Belfast Telegraph


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