United Ireland a complete non starter under current circumstances…

Interesting poll on the Border in the Belfast Telegraph, which to some extent tells us a few things that we already knew. One, the Protestants of (constitutional) Ulster do not what to know about a United Ireland. Only 7% of all voters would go for a united Ireland this year.

“…even when asked if they would vote to remove the Border in 20 years’ time, the figure increases only to 32pc (41% overall). Significantly, the proportion of the Catholic population that favours unity now or in 20 years is also a minority — just 48pc.

If these ‘don’t knows’ are ignored, 63pc of people in Northern Ireland, including 44pc of Catholics, want Northern Ireland to remain a separate entity even after 2032.

So what might we conclude? Well, it seems that many northern Nationalists remain what they were when partition sundered the island in 1922: Redmondite Home Rulers. And they have a home rule settlement within the United Kingdom that no longer can discriminate against their interest.

These neo Redmondites, as we might call them, vote across both major Nationalist parties, and many may even be interested in a united Ireland since it is part of a cultural complex that remains important to them.

But it is not near the top of many people’s lists of priorities. At 7% popularity now in Northern Ireland, not even, I suspect, Sinn Fein’s own (whatever gets said publicly).

  • Roy Walsh

    I’d have to agree with what Paddy is hinting at above, BT opinion polls I suspect are conducted in Donaghadee, if you want the result reversed go try Crossmagalen.
    Certainly not difficult to ‘rig’ such a poll, in my own area the result would be approx. 100% in favor of reunification, if you want to show approx. 60% in favor go to the next village while if you want to show 7%, or less, go 3 mile up the road to the next one but, BBC and their Unionist colleagues in the Independent report as ‘fact’ no journalistic questioning of results nor how they’re achieved.
    Unionism will take heart in such ‘evidence’ while the ‘our wee country’ brigade will seek to inform the Catholic large minority that they should remain in the state which still discriminates against them.
    The Republic government and society is not much better but at least there are societal and cultural ties with our own Nation which we do not share with our neighbors who continue to resist equality, if I had Paddy’s large whack of cash I’d commission my own poll and doubt the impartiality of BT when they refused to publish it.

  • salgado

    Roy – the voting intentions turned out to look much as expected, so perhaps Donaghadee is more representative than previously thought?

  • Mick Fealty


    If you rigged a poll by doing all the research in Donaghadee you would not be getting a reading of 28% for SF, believe me!

  • Roy Walsh

    I’ll accept that Mick but, you get my point, it’s where polls are undertaken which, on this type of questions, gives the result which the commissioner wanted.
    Mind you, I know of Shankill Rd. folk who votail SF so don’t discount the possibility.

  • OneNI

    This poll in isolation could be questioned but in fact in confirms a trend reflected in a number of the annual Life and Times surveys.
    I love how Roy says his village would be 100% in favour of ‘reunification’ – does that mean joining together again as part of the UK? After all that was the only time the island was one political unit.
    Roy I suspect your village has more diverse opinions than you would like them to have!

  • Mick Fealty

    I would not discount that possibility/probability. And I think that it is always a danger that people harden sampling into outcomes.

    But I’ve yet to hear a nationalist commenter on these threads that for most nationalist voters, political unification is a cultural value rather than a realistic objective.

    Instead we get a lot of ‘shot the messenger’ nonsense that ill-serves that cause.

  • Roy Walsh

    OneNI, good one, gave me a laugh, you failed O’ Level history then, but seriously, conduct the next such poll in Cross or Blaney, not N. Down or the Village.
    Mick, I make the point above that the societal and cultural ties to the rest of Ireland are stronger than our neighborhood ties to people from the same Province but other churches whose upbringing ties them, mostly, to the crown rather than the people.

  • Mick Fealty

    That last may be a fine ideological point, but not sure how that explains yhe seven percent who want reunification now?

  • Roy Walsh

    I suspect a few years ago some Wiley Burghers of north Down would have relished the better pensions in reunited Ireland, not now of course.
    The only poll which will matter will be the one brought about by the NI Secretary whenever they deem such not a waste of money, which between now and 2023 is what it will be.
    There are dangers in such a long wait for SF in that the ‘our wee country’ element will persuade the then minority of the majority to remain constitutionally linked to Britain, equally, those of the ‘Unionist’ persuasion, who my Granda always stated were not interested in the crown, rather the half crown, might be forced by economics to realign their thinking and reunite the Nation, the country never having been partitioned.
    On the 7%, had this poll been conducted in Donaghadee, and were this done two weeks ago I was there, if questioned I’d have said, ‘yes’ to reunification, a big ‘no’ to SF, but, there were several Tyroneities with full gear on there that day so as above, anythings possible.

  • Dec

    ‘If you rigged a poll by doing all the research in Donaghadee you would not be getting a reading of 28% for SF, believe me!’

    Is this a swipe at the NILT survey, Mick?

  • sonofstrongbow

    Perhaps the suggestion that these polls are conducted in North Down is not so far off the mark. Though nevertheless for understandable reasons.

    If I was employed as a pollster I’d much prefer asking questions in Donaghadee. A stranger asking questions in Cossmaglen and its environs might not be a particularly healthy occupation.

  • sitarman

    The poll was conducted by phone from over 1200 people throughout N.I. and carried out by an independent polling company.

    I have a question about the poll though… If the amount of Protestants who wanted a UI now was 0% and the amount of Catholics was 7% then why is the overall count still 7%? I can only imagine that their was a very large section of people who weren’t Protestant or Catholic?

  • Sitarman,

    I suspect either Dodds was misquoted or he didn’t quite grasp the mathematics…

  • Evolve

    It’s not so much that we want to shoot the messenger. It’s more that we need to acknowledge the problems associated with conducting these type of polls in Northern Ireland. Also the results associated with Belfast Telegraph polls do not have a great track record when measured against actual voting patterns.

  • Comrade Stalin


    It’s great to have an informed perspective. Very interesting.

    I imagine that we would be on very new territory indeed if the SoS refused to grant a referendum in the event of a nationalist majority. Effectively this would result in a constitutional dispute being placed in the hands of a court.

  • Barnshee

    I”’d have to agree with what Paddy is hinting at above, BT opinion polls I suspect are conducted in Donaghadee, if you want the result reversed go try Crossmagalen.
    Certainly not difficult to ‘rig’ such a poll, in my own area the result would be approx. 100% in favor of reunification, if you want to show approx. 60% in favor go to the next village while if you want to show 7%, or less, go 3 mile up the road to the next one but, BBC and their Unionist colleagues in the Independent report as ‘fact’ no journalistic questioning of results nor how they’re achieved.”

    Positive proof of the ignorance of statistical sampling techniques
    this lot can help
    http://www.rss.org.uk and/or http://www.istat.ie

    (Although in my experience you can altuall see the eyes of the innumerate glaze over as the subject is explored)

  • PaddyReilly

    Lionel Hutz has come up with the idea that the reason for this and similar polls is that the soon to be released results of the 2011 Northern Ireland census will show significantly increased numbers of Catholics in the area. It therefore becomes necessary, for those who want to preserve the Union, to show that Catholics do not, despite the common prejudice in this regard, want a United Ireland. I am not so sanguine about the census. Previous forecasts have mostly calculated that the number of Protestants and Unionists will even out to parity with the number of Catholics and Nationalists somewhere in the middle of this decade, not in 2011. Also the generally agreed signs of the last days will be a change in the complexion of Antrim and Craigavon Districts. There is even a Horseman article on the subject:-


    So, if there is a change of régime in Craigavon and Antrim councils, or, on a parliamentary level, a Nationalist gain in North Belfast and Upper Bann, then Northern Ireland will have a Nationalist majority. A change in only one of these would mean virtual parity, which could in fact be 50% + 1.
    As things stand we have 8 SF + SDLP constituencies, 8 DUP, 1 Alliance and 1 Lady Sylvia. At first glance this could be interpreted as parity, but examination of the Alliance vote indicates that they are Unionist leaning Alliance, most of whom would give their second preferences to the UUP or even other Unionist parties, and only a small minority choose the SDLP.

    So effectively we are one constituency short of a Nationalist majority. For the last two decades Unionists have made habit of losing a constituency at every election, so it shouldn’t be too long, but if the next one, like the last, is lost to an Alliance candidate, that doesn’t really change matters. But on the whole it seems reasonable to expect that, unless Unionists have come up with some master-plan to halt the population trends which have prevailed since 1975, there will be a Nationalist majority in Northern Ireland by the end of the current parliament or the one after it.

    Given that our Unionist compatriots are desperate to suppress democratic takeover for as long as possible by making Border Polls a one in seven year event, it follows that Nationalists have to select their moment. There maybe something of this in the BelTel returns, with Catholics being dead against reunification this year, but more favourable in years to come. So as long as the Nationalist tally of constituencies remains at 50% -1, the matter of reunification is not to be raised: not to be talked about, not to be thought about, not to be dreamt about. It’s like boasting what University you’re going to the day before your A level results come out.

    The question is, how will the Nationalist electorate react when it finds that it exceeds 50% of the vote? It would be unlike any other majority in the world if it seeks to limit its power by shackling itself to a system and an artificial geography where its wishes are perpetually thwarted by the outgoing majority. Will its leaders then address the province thus:-

    “Dearest Unionist Brethren, you may have noticed that we have recently achieved the status of majority in this beloved province, which you so kindly created for the express purpose of disenfranchising us. In fact with every small advance we have achieved, you have made a point of thwarting us, even in the smallest matters. Some might imagine that we intend this to change. But fear not: This is the Irish, not the Turkish court; Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds, But Harry Harry! No, we actually like this system. It gives us the greatest pleasure that whenever we try to enact anything, you will appeal to the country next door and down a bit, to try and have it reversed. And so we say: Tiocfaidh ár n-oiche!! God save the Queen!”
    [Chorus of Orangemen sing the last aria from the Pirates of Penzance “Yes, yes, with all their faults, they dearly love their Queen.” Not a dry eye in the house.]

  • Roy Walsh

    Paddy, not to get off point but, in relation to your last post, the NIAP were always and remain a pro-Union party, ergo, Unionist, in light of which the requirement for another constituency might have longer to wait.
    SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell takes substantial ‘protestant’ support in the present south Belfast constituency making the comparison a little off.
    Sorry, just small demographic facts, I suspect, as predicted in the same Belfast Telegraph in, I think, 1998, the forthcoming Catholic majority will not amount to much over 1.4% for a considerable time so Union supporting catholics might frustrate the will of their co-religionists for a period, by which time we long suffering older catholics will be dead or dying, this strikes me as a good reason to seek to reverse the natural wish for re-unification.
    Finally, with the Irish census 2011 published, the British census 2011 published, here, with an enormous public sector why can we, again as in 2001, not have the results of our census published within the same timescale, I’ve been informed by them it will be next year.

  • PaddyReilly

    The Alliance Party have, in other people’s opinion to mine, shifted their stance from firmly pro-Union to neutral, and will certainly, in the fullness of time, become pro-United Ireland, when there is a United Ireland.

    At same time the religious complexion of Alliance has changed. It used to be big in Derry: presumably with Catholics who felt they should vote but not offend their Protestant neighbours by overt Fenianism. Generally the party was kept going by the votes of Catholics who lived in overwhelming majority Protestant areas. But now, in some areas, like South Antrim, it is obvious that the support is overwhelmingly from Protestants. Elsewhere: in East Antrim and Lagan Valley, it is fairly certain that all the Alliance vote comes from Catholics.

    South Belfast was 35.63% Catholic in the last census (2001) and 41.36% Catholic Community Background (2001); Alasdair McDonnell got 41% of the vote in (2010), the combined SDLP + SF vote in (2001) was 38.2%. No evidence of Protestant support here. In fact, as there has probably been an increase in the Catholic percentage of the population, so a minority of Catholics are voting for Alliance. McDonnell gained his victory because some of the Catholics, probably all of those whose denied any religious background in the Census, and a small number of those who appeared in the Census as Protestant, voted for Alliance, not for his opponents.

    The idea that percentage of seats = percentage of population is a little approximative. Technically you could win half the seats with only a quarter of the population, less when there is more than two parties, but in practice it tends not to happen. The number of seats won in a Westminster type election is a mixture of the number of your supporters plus your political togetherness. The Stormont system does not produce the same distortions, and tends to help those who aren’t politically together, preserving minor parties beyond their sell-by date. But the results are much the same.

    But one thing I have noticed is that your political ideas can be more to do with the the make up of the area you come from than your own religious background. Such Catholic Unionists as have been cited to me tend to come from places like Ballymena and Bangor. There are even cases of boys from a Catholic background who joined the UVF because they grew up on Protestant Housing estates. But this only happens when the complexion of the area is overwhelmingly Protestant: once the constituency borders or the political system is altered, then those sneaking Fenians show their inherent disloyalty. Who would have thought a Sinn Féin MLA was possible in East Antrim? This would have happened under the old system.

    So, for there to be a Nationalist majority in NI, it is very important that there be a majority of Nationalist constituencies. When a constituency is won by a Nationalist candidate, or even appears to be winnable, the Catholic Unionists tend to disappear. The same of course, applies to the whole province in the case of a reunification poll.

  • PaddyReilly

    For “This would have happened under the old system.” read “This would not have happened under the old system.”

  • RyanAdams

    “in East Antrim and Lagan Valley, it is fairly certain that all the Alliance vote comes from Catholics.”

    I would love to know how you are able to determine this. Doing the maths from 2011 I get a catholic population of 22% in Lagan Valley on the basis of your formua: Alliance + SDLP + SF (12.4+6.1+3.4). It wasn’t 22% Catholic before Lagmore, Dunmurry and Glenavy got kicked out by a boundary review, and it certainly isn’t now.

    Finally there was evidence of a cross community vote for AMcD in South Belfast 2010 in many traditionally loyalist areas, and thats something all parties tally figures agreed on. Not enough that would have made a difference had it went any other way though. (Figures I was given were between 10 – 15% in the areas between the Cregagh and Ravenhill Roads).

  • Drumlins Rock

    Ryan, Paddy, etc. South Belfast is acutally quite an easy one to see in one way, Anna Lo transfers show where most of her votes went to, very few did not transfer btw. http://www.eoni.org.uk/ni_assembly_election_2011_-_belfast_south_result_sheet.pdf just under half went to Nationalist parties, bit more than a quarter to Unionist and the rest to greens etc. On the other hand East Bewlfast is prob the opposite, on the whole how ever the SDLP seems to gain most from AP transfers, then the UUP.

  • PaddyReilly


    According to Nicholas White, the Catholic Community portion of Lagan valley is 20.62%. I assumed that this was after the boundary changes, but I now remember that it was before, so you are right, there are about 2,000 Protestant Alliance voters in Lagan Valley. But this still means that only 7% of Protestants are voting Alliance there, compared to nearly half of Catholics: which was the point I was making about the Alliance vote.

    I’m not so sure about cross-community support in South Belfast. Loyalist Estates are not as uniform as they used to be: they have been penetrated by quite foreign people, who may not yet have learnt how to vote properly. But 10-15% of two streets does not amount to a great deal. This is micropolitics, of the sort I mentioned above in relation to the signalboxman. And even if 10% of purebred loyalists are voting for McDonnell, we have no evidence that they might not follow this up by voting for a United Ireland.

  • RyanAdams

    Paddy, your geography of South Belfast isn’t great – Cregagh and Ravenhill are arterial routes out of the city – its not two streets, its effectively two wards. The wards in the sample area are Ravenhill and Woodstock, amounting to an electorate of 6,000 – Just under 10% of South Belfasts electorate (infact the areas culturally more East Belfast naturally interfacing with Cregagh).

    Lagan Valleys issue is there are relatively high profile unionist candidates here – Jeffery, Basil and Edwin garnering serious personal votes, along with candidates who could appeal to the broad church model, despite having base issues (4/5 of the Unionist MLAs live in the same DEA). In comparison, In 2011 both nationalist candidates were unknown blow-ins, making Lunn the most recognisable and centrist personality on the ticket.

  • Mister Joe

    Protestants versus Catholics. Bah. Look at the border poll results, Paddy.

  • Dewi

    Have a border poll now…..it would be helpful for so many reasons.

  • Mister Joe

    Alas, Dewi, they don’t come for free and the result is a foregone conclusion. Some parties might even boycott it like the last time.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I suspect Paddy has a point – in the hullabaloo of a border poll, many apolitical cultural nationalists who currently say they’re fine with the status quo can be expected to nevertheless vote nationalist. It would be an exceptionally febrile atmosphere, I would think – and it could be expected to get very tribal.

    But what might win a poll for unionists even in a Catholic majority situation is the fear of the impact of an attempted change of sovereignty on the security situation. I think some of the more thoughtful nationalists will view swapping the current delicately balanced cross-community compromise for apparent “victory” for one side – even if it’s their “own” side – as bringing a massive risk of renewed conflict.

    This is really why it’s all over for 32-county Irish nationalism. It’s an idea that is about one side “winning” an ultimate victory in Ireland over the other, in a situation where we’ve all realised one side winning is the last thing that should be allowed to happen, if we care about peace and avoiding conflict. Even there were to be a nationalist majority in NI, this would not be such a thing as a single “Irish people” – you’d have a cobbled-together amalgam of two nationalities at loggerheads, just now in a flimsier container and with one feeling Armageddon is upon it, nursing pent-up anger and with nothing to lose. I’m afraid there is no crock of gold at the end of the 32 county rainbow, it’s a crock of something squidgier. If the prospect looms, I think a substantial number of nationalist voters may kick it into touch. Better the devil you know. So the polls may end up being right after all.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Argued myself in a circle there, but what I meant was I think that’s the journey some ‘nationalists’ might go on – soft unionist for now as in the poll, then rediscovering the call of the all-Ireland dream, before reality hits in the run up to the vote and returning to a soft unionist position for the sake of stability. Just a hunch obviously 😉

  • SK

    The unionists who are most critical of the Republican violent streak are invariably the first to talk up the “bloodbath” that would follow any moves towards unity. I’ve always been amused by that.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The whole violence, I’ve never really got how people think the fear of violence will favour the union. There are crazy people on both sides and they will act out if the result doesn’t go their way. I’d fear the dissidents more than loyalists in those circumstances. Plus, with a ‘no’ vote, there would be no finality. We only have to vote yes once

  • Alias

    What would be the point of loyalist violence in a situation where the union with the UK ended? And which state would sponsor and direct their pro-state violence when the UK state no longer defended that part of its former realm and therefore had no further use for its murder gangs? You only have to take a quick glance at the “brigadiers” to grasp that those muppets are not a threat to any state that does not protect them.

  • PaddyReilly

    If you have been hired to go out to Rwanda to find out what the Hutus and and Tutsis think, one thing you must never do is turn up in a Hutu household and start listening to them telling you what the Tutsis want. Or vice versa.

    But here we have a long succession of Unionists telling us about the Nationalist preference for the known devil, their fear of the impact on the security situation, etc, etc. The champion of these is Barnshee “Although in my experience you can altuall see the eyes of the innumerate glaze over as the subject is explored”. Great. We’re too stupid to understand the mathematics of why we don’t want a United Ireland, which has been scientifically and totally accurately calculated for us for all time by a Unionist newspaper who have hired an independent polling company (which just happens to consist of two known advocates of the Union) to save us the bother and expense of voting on it ourselves.

    Just who do you think you are kidding? Let Hutu speak of Hutu hopes, desires and aspirations, and Tutsi of Tutsi. What Unionists are really telling us is not what Nationalists think, but what Unionists wish Nationalists would think.

  • JR

    What do people think of the Idea of any council ward area voting for a UI in this hypothetical border poll moving into the south? The new setup being facilitated by a few concession roads ie the M1 into west Belfast. I know it has it’s problems but from a South Armagh/Newry/Derry prospective it might work.

  • Barnshee

    “The champion of these is Barnshee “Although in my experience you can actually see the eyes of the innumerate glaze over as the subject is explored”

    Er no — purely a “champion” for numeracy

    No group has a monopoly of innumeracy.The “eyes of the innumerate”,in my experience,exist in substantial numbers in all stratas, across all sections of populations. (Try teaching it if you doubt me)

    Probability and sampling theory are moderately complex areas for populations with low levels of mathematical achievement.

    If you wish to dispute the published results of a sampling and probability exercise there are series of tests which may be applied (broadly miscalculation or bias)


    (Now can actually hear the eyes glazing over)

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    You’re right there would be no point in Loyalist violence but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen.

    I know what you mean about the old bloodbath warnings and we have to be careful of talking ourselves into making violence seem somehow inevitable – it isn’t, it’s down to deliberate decisions people make that they’re individually responsible for.
    At the same time, it’s not inconsistent to condemn Republican and Loyalist violence but also flag up scenarios in which there is an increased risk of that (wrong) violence breaking out. It’s like dealing with any crime really: you need to address both the wrongful action of the individual criminal and the wider conditions in which high crime tends to emerge. You deal with both, it’s not one or the other. So it’s quite consistent to be against terrorism while arguing for the social and inter-communal stability that makes terrorism less likely to return.

    Indeed it would be the crazies on both sides in that scenario who would feel triggered into action. It’s a situation we don’t need.
    The risk of violence favours the union because of an oddity in how the brain works – what the behavioural economists call “loss aversion”. As Thaler and Sunstein among others have shown, people appear hard-wired to regard losses as around twice as significant as gains: that is, we fear a loss to about double the extent that we value gain. Losing £1 feels twice as bad as gaining £1 feels good. So we tend to overvalue what we already have (possibly because it brings added benefits on top of its intrinsic value, such as a feeling of being in control and feeling oneself to be on a positive trajectory). With the current stability in N Ireland based on virtual parity and stalemate between the communities, I think people will be naturally fearful of anything that upsets that balance, even if the alternative is presented as equally good. It needs to do better than that before people will take a risk on it. And that’s just those people open to the idea to start with …

    The problem for SF-IRA was always that if they stopped the killing, people would have no incentive to change the constitutional status of NI. And so it is proving. Yet the violence didn’t work either. They really have nothing left. Now they have no real point – they are just a party representing Catholic interests and getting jobs for their mates. Still, better that than killing us all I suppose.