Belfast Telegraph

What unites us all is wanting to live in peace

By Gail Walker

I don't know why anyone is surprised that the Life and Times survey for 2010 showed that only 16% of people in Northern Ireland want to see the border removed with 52% of Catholics in favour of the union with Britain.

Surveys are all about the questions that are asked and how they are asked. Hence, Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff's bafflement at how 26% of the NI population could vote for his party - which could be said to be still in favour of a united Ireland - while the survey figure on that very question is so different.

And hence, DUP MLA Robin Newton declaring the result meant that the "old stereotypes" on which "nationalist parties have relied on for so long, are crumbling away", while only 1% of Catholics was prepared to say they backed his party, with the same miserable percentage opting for the UUP.

What the survey results do mean, though, is that we are going to have to start changing the questions we ask and the way we ask them.

The idea that what we old folks call The National Question or the Safety of the Union or, simply, The Border, expresses in any way the priorities of our younger population today is a mistake.

Imagine a social setting, if you can. A family-friendly pub or club. Now ... imagine a gaunch. This won't be hard, as we have many famous public gaunches to choose from, in politics and the media.

And we will also all have our secret identity parade of gaunches we know from work and personal life - hey, we might even be married to one.

This gaunch has a clipboard and is asking those embarrassing, dreadful questions we'd all rather not think about. But, yes, in big broad terms, family and school and location and leisure will play a factor when the gaunch asks a question about the peace process.

"DUP? I'm not voting for them, I'm a Catholic and a nationalist. Sinn Fein? Oh yes, voted for them all my life and they've brought peace, it was a hard road. But there's a whole new set-up now thanks to them."

Or ... "DUP? Absolutely, they're keeping republicans under control, won't let them away with anything. My friend's dad was murdered in '84. But the DUP can help us keep the gun out of politics and the fact there's a whole new set-up now is thanks to them."

But both will say 'This is fine. This is working. This isn't perfect. But nothing is. It's better than it was. I don't want to jeopardise it by grandstanding'.

Want to maintain things exactly as they are? Some 73% agree. Think community relations are better now than five years ago? A total of 62% agree. Now, if there is still anyone left in the pub or club after the gaunch begins his questioning - which is very unlikely indeed - then economy and lifestyle and recessions and bank bailouts and currencies and school systems and health services and so on will only make the NQ or the SofU or TheB seem old-fashioned, cranky and vague and odd.

It's not that people who vote Sinn Fein want to maintain the union with Britain. It's that people nowadays have access to far more information, are far more savvy, are far more aware of the details of how an economy works than any of us old folks had when we left school or started work. And they are much less inclined to be pigeon-holed into one category or another.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to raise your family in stability and a higher degree of prosperity in Britain even while you are voting Sinn Fein to make sure one brand of your politics gets an airing in Stormont.

No one but a nutcase would opt for upheaval, uncertainty, confusion and disarray - yet again - when we've just got our feet under the table of a workable settlement.

For both unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland, it's a case of The Devil You Know. And the survey says we are getting to know that gentleman better and better every year. And, bad as he is, or was, he mightn't be such a bad fella after all.


From Belfast Telegraph