Well, maybe. The new Life and Times survey certainly marks a falling away in self definition as ‘Nationalist’ or ‘Unionist’. It also reports that the Union is currently “favoured by 54%, compared to 30% who want a united Ireland”. But, as Liam Clarke noted in yesterday’s Sunday Times, it is not good news for proponents of constitutional change. Though it also indicates that were such change were to come about, then 84% of Protestants would be prepared to live with it.By Liam Clarke:
IRISH unity is not likely to command majority support in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future, a survey has found. Most people want the province to remain indefinitely as part of the United Kingdom. This is favoured by 54%, compared to 30% who want a united Ireland.
The annual Northern Ireland Life and Times survey, conducted by the province’s two universities, has found that traditional constitutional issues are concerning people less. Some 40% of those surveyed — including 30% of Protestants and 42% of Catholics — said they were neither nationalist nor unionist.
Support for remaining in the UK is nearly unanimous among Protestants (85%) and commands the support of 22% of Catholics, of whom just over half (56%) favour Irish unity. If a united Ireland never comes, some 86% of Catholics say they would accept the popular will. On the other hand, if there is a majority vote for Irish unity, 84% of Protestants would either happily accept it (31%) or could at least live with it (53%).
As the marching season approaches, there is evidence of strong opposition to its traditional activities: 76% of Protestants and 86% of Catholics oppose flags being flown, while 12% actively support the idea. Around nine in 10 in both communities would like their neighbourhoods and workplaces to be politically neutral.
There is hope that sectarianism is declining: only 4% of people think Catholic/Protestant relationships are likely to deteriorate over the next five years. Many expressed willingness to form friendships with people of other Christian denominations; only 15% said they would object strongly if a relative married someone of another religion. Large majorities in both communities say they would like to see more mixed neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.
Only a tiny minority (5%) think that either Catholics or Protestants are “generally treated unfairly when compared with other groups”. By contrast 39% thought ethnic minorities were treated unfairly and 31% felt that bisexuals, gays and lesbians were discriminated against.
This also came through when people expressed their attitudes to interracial marriage. Three out of four wouldn’t mind a close relative marrying someone of another religion but 87% said they wouldn’t readily accept a relative marrying a traveller, while 84% wouldn’t accept a marriage to a Muslim and 75% one to a person from an ethnic minority.
In the poll, 53% wouldn’t find travellers acceptable as Northern Ireland residents, and 82% would not accept them as friends.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty