Belfast Telegraph

Ireland border row is stifling real politics

Editor's Viewpoint

It is little wonder that politicians often try to discredit opinion polls unless the results tie in with their own philosophy. For as the poll in this newspaper today shows, the border is not an issue for the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.

Only a minuscule number would want it to go now and, even given the luxury of forecasting 20 years into the future, less than a quarter of those polled would want a united Ireland.

Yet this is an issue on which politics here have been predicated almost since the inception of the state.

Politicians on both sides of the divide play on the primal fears of their constituents by playing the united Ireland card. Unionists suggest that Sinn Fein or the SDLP are trying to undermine Northern Ireland by stealth while nationalists keep telling their supporters that unionists are forcibly denying them their aspiration for unity.

The border is part of the psyche of politics here, but it is not a matter of any great concern for most ordinary people.

Playing on this issue stymies mature discussion on a range of matters forcing everything to be viewed as a zero-sum game. The Irish language cannot get any aid without a quid pro quo for Ulster-Scots culture.

Proper cross-border co-operation of matters of mutual interest is viewed with suspicion in case it furthers the cause of Irish unity.

Before the political machinery swings into action to criticise the poll, it should be pointed out that it was conducted to British polling standards and can be seen as a proper reflection of the views of ordinary people.

Politicians would do well to heed that message and also the clear evidence in the poll of disenchantment with and disengagement from politics here, especially among women and the young.

And more than half of the influential AB social groupings don't cast a vote. Politicians may well ask themselves just who do they represent and have their views any real relevance to ordinary people's lives here.


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