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Editor's Viewpoint: Border poll puts it up to parties

Since Northern Ireland was formed 90 years ago two words - the border - have dominated local politics.

For nationalists and republicans its removal was their raison d'etre. During the many decades when unionism was the dominant political force, it was only the faint hope of Irish unity one day that kept nationalist politics relevant.

Of course the fear of a united Ireland was the bogeyman of unionist politics, the rallying cry that ensured the voters came out and voted in their traditional tribal manner.

So it is ironic that now when the population split in Northern Ireland is approaching equal - with Catholics in the majority among the under-30s - the border, and thence Irish unity, seems less relevant than at any time in the province's history.

Less than half of Catholics want Irish unity, even in 20 years time. While it is understandable in the current economic climate, with the Republic in hock to Europe, that Irish unity is not a very enticing prospect, it is surprising that so few favour it even as a long-term ambition.

The finding from our poll throws out a big challenge to the two main political parties here, the DUP and Sinn Fein. Both of them have played the border card often in the past. Sinn Fein continually argues that Irish unity is not only achievable but approaching. The DUP has never been slow to warn its supporters that they could be voted into a united Ireland at any moment unless they keep their guard up and make every vote count.

However the poll shows that the border is not a relevant issue and both parties would serve their constituents best by concentrating on day to day politics, seeking solutions to the problems of unemployment, scarce public resources, and the chaos in education.

Another person facing a challenge as a result of our poll is the Chief Constable. In spite of the changed political environment and the reform of the force, surprisingly few people are prepared to recommend the police as a career option for close relatives. Perhaps fear of dissident republicans is one reason, but Matt Baggott obviously needs to convince many people about the value of the force.