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Editor's Viewpoint

Co-existence seems best we can hope for in Northern Ireland



Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

As the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland approaches it is clear that the past 99 years has brought little consensus between unionists and nationalists over the future of the province.

Sectarian conflict may have disappeared in the main but attitudes among the two main political blocs have hardened.

Some 71% of nationalists described themselves as 'strong' nationalists while 67% of unionists used a similar definition of themselves.

This latest report on attitudes in Northern Ireland - which used information from last year's Life and Times Survey - runs contrary to an extent on recent election results, which saw Alliance make significant gains and the SDLP rise Lazarus-like from what appeared to be its death throes.

Perhaps these results were fuelled by the disquiet over the direction of travel of the Brexit debate, which was seen to be threatening business prospects on this island as well as the future of farming.

Coronavirus may have driven Brexit off the front pages but a no-deal exit from Europe, the worst possible scenario in most people's minds, seems more likely now than ever unless a last minute extension is sought and granted.

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Sinn Fein, cock-a-hoop over its performance in the Republic's general election and its stranglehold on nationalist politics here, saw Brexit as a vehicle to trundle Northern Ireland into an united Ireland, but only 22% of people here are in favour of unity, about half the figure who are happy with devolution.

However, nationalists have not had their optimism dashed, with 54% believing unity will happen within 20 years.

Only 20% of unionists take that view.

Mary Lou McDonald may have called for a border poll but there seems little evidence to compel the Secretary of State to grant this, even if he showed the slightest interest in such a move.

The continuing strength of support for the Good Friday Agreement and the devolved institutions it spawned is encouraging, even surprising, given that Stormont was in its own self-imposed state of furlough for three years before politicians returned this year.

Given the respective strengths of the DUP and Sinn Fein, there is little chance of either reining in their mutually exclusive political ideologies. Co-existence, rather than consensus on the future, would seem the best to hope for.

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