Politics, Europe

Majority in Northern Ireland back Irish unity poll

Survey shows 47% would vote to remain in UK, 42% would vote to reunify with Ireland, with crucial 11% undecided

Karim El-Bar   | 25.01.2021
Majority in Northern Ireland back Irish unity poll

LONDON 

The future unity of the UK was thrown into doubt Sunday when a survey for The Sunday Times newspaper showed 51% support in Northern Ireland for a border poll within the next five years.

A border poll is a referendum in Northern Ireland on reunification with the Republic of Ireland.

In the survey, 44% were against a border poll.

On which way the Northern Irish would vote, 47% would vote to remain in the UK and 42% would vote to reunify with the Republic of Ireland. A crucial 11% were undecided. This gives unionists only a slim margin over those who want Irish reunification.

The survey also showed age to be a critical factor: among under-45s, 47% support Irish reunification versus 46% who support remaining in the union.

Overall, those who were surveyed believed there would be a united Ireland within 10 years by 48% to 44%.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, who also leads the staunchly pro-union Democratic Unionist Party, said a border poll would be “absolutely reckless.”

Speaking to Sky News in an interview, she said: “We all know how divisive a border poll would be.”

“For us in Northern Ireland, what we have to do is all come together to fight against COVID and not be distracted by what would be absolutely reckless at this time,” Foster said.

“It is not that I'm dead against it,” she said, referring to the border poll. “I can argue for the United Kingdom every day of the week because the arguments are rational, logical and they will win through.

“Nobody is suggesting, not even this poll is suggesting, that we would lose if there was a border poll. But it would be incredibly divisive,” she said.

“Therefore, we need to get on with all of the things that matter to everybody in their everyday lives. That's what I'm focused on and that's what everyone should be focused on.”

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, who is also vice president of the staunchly pro-Irish reunification party Sinn Fein, said “over 50% of people here support a referendum on unity in the next five years. There is an unstoppable conversation under way on our constitutional future.”

“It is time for the Irish government to step up preparations. We can overcome the barriers of partition and build a new Ireland.”

According to the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Secretary, a British government cabinet minister, must call a border poll if it seems “likely” that a majority would vote in favor of Irish reunification.

The UK suffered a 30-year low-intensity conflict both in Northern Ireland and the wider UK called ‘the Troubles.’ This conflict pitted Northern Irish republican nationalists, who wanted unification with the Republic of Ireland, against Northern Irish unionists, who wanted to remain in the UK.

Thousands died and tens of thousands were wounded across Northern Ireland, the wider UK and the Republic of Ireland. The conflict came to an end with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

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