We also learn this week that 14% of nationalists have sympathy with the objectives of groups like the Real IRA. Again, this piece of research challenges the conventional wisdom that these people enjoy no support. It is credible work and can’t be dismissed.
But it is a bit of a jump to read the research as suggesting that 14% of nationalists “support” them, as some coverage has implied.
The question asked in the survey was: “Do you have sympathy for the reasons why some republic groups (such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA) continue to use violence?”
This means respondents are expressing sympathy for the “reasons” and not the groups themselves – a subtle, but important distinction. In other words, it’s much easier to say “yes” to the question as framed than if it had said: “Do you sympathise with the Real IRA?” or “Do you support the Real IRA?”
What the research does tell us is that concepts of the renegade groups as something “other” are too simplistic. These people come from communities living in Northern Ireland and they enjoy a degree of sympathy that extends well into “normal” society.