#IrelandsCall: So similar and yet north and south continue their long slow drift apart…

Here’s an initial collation of the slides from last night’s programme, taken from what RTE and BBC NI have shared on their websites, and a couple of screenshots I took at the time.

If you have any more do let me know and I will add them to a second iteration?

There’s lots of yummy data in the overall survey, not least the indications just how happy everyone seems to be both with their current lives and their future prospects (I’m sure they flashed that up on screen but I cannot find it on either site.

There is one legitimate with the findings. As Chris highlighted one in his post this morning, which is the data for Belfast. The un-grossed total for that section is just 198, so it is bound to be in error of upwards of +/- 10%.

But generally the survey is twice the sample size of normal polls, giving a robust reading for both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Constitutional statusWhat’s the interesting stuff? Well, devolution within the UK is popular both north and south. In the Republic it is just pipped by a UI in the short to medium term, but only by one per cent.

In Northern Ireland it accounts for by far the single most popular option, followed by direct rule (increasingly popular with a unionist electorate which is sensitive to the lack of outputs from Stormont), and a UI at 13%.

With all caveats about not reading from one pollster’s methodology to another duly lodged, it’s worth noting that this reads even more poorly against Spotlight’s Ipsos Mori polling from just over two years ago which registered 17%. However you cut it, that does not reflect well on the current leadership of Northern Irish Nationalism.

Constitutional status 2Intriguingly the breakdown in figures may give some indications for why SF’s recent attempt at a ‘count the Taigs‘ strategy in north Belfast failed.  Catholics seem to be much more committed to the institutions agreed to in the Belfast Agreement than the political leadership in Sinn Fein appear to be.

The intriguing thing though is the high level of satisfaction with life and future prospects on either side of the border. The abiding truth is that no one seems terribly upset and the prospect of the current constitutional status remaining in place for the foreseeable future.

satisfaction 1For all the passions (not to mention thousands of lives) expended on the matter (and I disagree here with Chris’s assertion that northern nationalists “have always been very relaxed about time frames”) for the moment at least Irish unification remains a solution still looking for a concretised problem to solve.

In the Nolan end of the programme I thought this was probably best illustrated when Clare Hannah struggled to get beyond an base assertion that northern nationalists had to make Northern Ireland work. Fine as a differentiator from Sinn Fein’s apparent determination in the opposite direction, but hardly an adequate answer to Nolan’s vociferous demand to sell a united Ireland to a Unionist ‘other’.

In the southern leg, Pearse Doherty struggled manfully with the same party lines as his colleagues Gerry Kelly and Alex Maskey had done two years ago on the same subject up to and in the wake of those Spotlight Ipsos Mori poll findings. It suggests neither northern party have applied themselves seriously to the engineering work of building north south relations.

ReligionWhat was remarkable about most of the rest of the survey (the bit that both BBC and RTE trailed before broadcast) was just how similar in outlook the two populations are. Conservative but strongly trending towards liberal in matters of sexual orientation and even religion.

The trend away from organised religion fits with similar trends published in the US this week. I’d say this is both a threat and an opportunity for those advocating a united Ireland.

The effort to get one swathe of the population to stay intact as you try to move them corporately over the line will become even more difficult as they further disassociate from the Catholic Church and its ancillary cultural institutions.

The opportunity arises from the resultant freeing up of identities.  In my own view the pursuit of the longer term goal cannot be achieved on the defenderist ‘we are the coming people’ tradition.

Such fluidity, as we have seen in Scotland, will require the creation of larger material connections via broad consent rather than the narrower forms of coercion which have predominated in those areas of tension in the last fifteen to twenty five years.

Indeed, it fell to Pat Rabbit to point out in the last section of the RTE Prime Time programme (after parting with Nolan), “the only way we will get a UI is by using the bridges we already have. And they are not being used!!”

Republican or otherwise, it is hard to argue with that…

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

  • Look at the cost to Germany of reunification, look at the scale, and look at the taxes needed to make that happen. And RoI doesn’t have the flexibility of its own currency to factor in, and Berlin would have to approve the spending. Really. End of. Aspire by all means, but get real.

  • mickfealty

    Worth clipping on to the first speaker at this SF ‘hearing’ in Brussels (about 6.30 mins in), Professor Christa Luft: http://youtu.be/GFUN128LHM4. It’s pretty austere messaging and one that seems to go right over the heads of the events conveners…

  • mac tire

    Here’s another one.

  • Robin Keogh

    Those who vote for SF and the SDLP can see that both parties try to live up to their promises in very difficult circumstances. Rejecting welfare reform, fighting for marraige equality and opposing the tory austerity terror campaign are central parts of their policy platforms. Both parties will have noted by looking south how easily the electorate will rip you up if like Fianna Fail you break promises, nurture corruption and thrive on the favours of financial elites. In FF the people dont yet trust that the brown envelope has finally gone away ( you know ! ). Both the SDLP and SF supported the institutions and stayed put while Unionism played musical chairs with peoples taxes, for no reason but to trip each other up.

    Societies are always happy when equality is at the centre. If only Unionism realised this in the middle 60s, what trouble could we have avoided and even now although they struggle with concept of power sharing and minority rights, at least they no longer have the only hand on the lever.

    Nationalism has been lazy in terms of publishing a plan for Irish unity however the poll findings that the south see irish unity as the best long term solution added to the fact that only 43 % of six county citizens see the UK as the best long term option for the north presents a handsome starting place in the absence of a thorough debate.

  • mickfealty

    Thanks Mac. Very useful!!

  • mickfealty

    I don’t think people need a plan so much as to see a capacity and a willingness to build something worthwhile and attractive. The rest is all PR and ‘Content Marketing’.

  • Robin Keogh

    You are correct.

  • Zeno

    Only 41% in Northern Ireland would like to see UI in their lifetimes. (excluding don’t knows). Considering how soft that option is, it is very bad news for people who want a United Ireland.

  • Alanbrooke

    Federal UK
    Souths joins up
    Ireland as one unit
    Job done

    What have the last 100 years been about ?

  • Robin Keogh

    Its something to build on

  • Trasna

    Why would the Rep join a considerably poorer country?

    Why do NI Protestants have a fear of ruling a country or having a considerable say when they make up 20% of the population?

    Why is a UI acceptable only with a poorer country.

  • Zeno

    Well good luck.

  • Croiteir

    Can anyone tell me what short/medium term is?

  • Robin Keogh

    Lol, cheers.

  • Greenflag 2

    I listened to Prof Luft’s piece . It should be said she is a member of the SED which is iirc the successor party to the East German Communist Party . I’m trying to figure out what part of her message went over the heads of the conveners presumably SF heads ?
    Her message was factual , detailed and interesting in so far as it shows no matter where on Earth you go the bigger wolf gobbles up the smaller lamb without much regard for the lambs feelings . Whats new ?

    . I don’t believe that the West German/East German reuniification experience is of much relevance to any future Irish reunification . Northern Ireland was never an East Germany even when it was in effect a one party state . People were’nt shot or imprisoned or their families careers destroyed for merely wanting to leave East Germany . The Stormont Government did’nt sell people from Northern Ireland to the the Republic or the UK for 3 billion D-Marks (an estimated total from DDR records ) .

    Professor Luft seems to regret some aspects of the old East Germany -the full employment – the communal sharing etc etc – even she knows that there will be no return to the good old bad old days . Having been to East Germany on a couple of occasions and having been arrested by the Stasi for crossing an empty street in the non regulation manner -I have less than fond memories of the place and retain an utter contempt for the Stasi -however they did extract a fine of 20 West German marks from me the swine 😉

    If you can elaborate on what seems to go over said heads from her speech it would be appreciated -time permitting – etc .

  • Greenflag 2

    Apples and Oranges . Any comparison is ridiculous . I’ve been to both and since reunification East Germany has done better than it otherwise would have . There are of course some East Germans who would still prefer the good old days (see my other post on this thread) when they could pretend they lived in a Socialist paradise -but they are a small mostly elderly minority . In the event of a UI you’ll have a similar result but most people will move with the future . Its the way life is for most people.

  • mickfealty

    But there are legitimate parallels Greenflag. Sinn Fein thought there were sufficient parallels to invite Professor Luft to their Brussels hearing on Irish reunification in that YouTube video I have posted below.

    Where I think the parallel runs out is that German reunification had severe economic ramifications because it was sudden and deeply popular. Reunification of north and south is dropping rather than rising in popularity. That should afford more patient advocates the opportunity to get some of the more expensive spade work done in advance. Not to mention as David McCann has argued finding ways to drop costs and increase Northern Ireland’s prosperity.

  • mickfealty

    She pretty much argues that it was an accession not a unification of two countries….

    “Unification can only take place if there is understanding and conciliation and there was far too little of that.”

    What you so blythly dismiss as what everybody knows is exactly why the aggressive SF model of accession is dropping in popularity. That quote is an early example of what she says that seems not to register on the hosts at the time or indeed in any their pronouncements on the subject ever since.

    In effect the Professor, if I recall correctly, warns them against adopting rash ideas of rushed unification. Her message is simply put that too much value is lost in such a hurried process.

  • mickfealty

    Why is a UI (of any type) falling in popularity despite the continuing success of SF?

  • Zeno

    I don’t think it is (falling). It has been much the same in the polls etc for years. This is different though as this poll seems to be generally accepted rather than completely dismissed. That leads to a whole new set of different problems.

  • Greenflag 2

    There was no time for understanding nor conciliation in that situation . The situation could have deteriorated into a 3rd World War with consequences that could have left the entire continent a wasteland .

    I don’t know what you mean by the aggressive SF model of accession . As I understand there can be no UI without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland which is the view of all the major parties both North and South at this stage . Those who might still oppose that view belong to a very small minority of so called dissidents and loyalists.

    Perhaps and I suggest this seriously it was’nt so much that the Professors speech went over the SF attendee’s head but more likely that the longer they listened they realised that any scenario for a UI would be very different from anything like the German experience .

    Any Irish reunification would take place in circumstances very different from what happened in Germany . Firstly both parts of Ireland (the island ) are part of the EU – have long democratic traditions ( plus a few not so democratic ) . The only other country remotely affected by any Irish reunification would be the UK . People in NI would retain their property at market exchange values of the new currency and would be able to retain sterling bank accounts for as long as deemed necessary . Businesses in Northern Ireland would remain in the hands of the present owners etc . The hurried process from the West German side was in retrospect probably the best thing that could have happened for East Germany . The experience of other former Eastern European countries and in particular Russia resulted in many of the former communist apparatchiks morphing into criminal mafia types who stole State assets and set themselves up as the new Russian oligarchy .

    As to the ‘value ‘ lost in the hurried process . Yes there was some -but the gains made have been enormous for the German economy and indeed Polands the other former neighbour .

    Northern Ireland’s situation is very different . So different in fact that I’d suggest that SF came away from the event no wiser than before . If any SF attendee can refute what I’ve said I’d like to hear their take on the experience in Brussels .

  • Zeno

    This reminds me of Kübler-Ross’s famous five stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

    We have seen denial, anger and bargaining from different people at different stages in the debate. Some people have already apparently moved to acceptance. Have SF responded yet? I don’t see anything on their website. One TD did tweet that 41% v 59% was a great starting point which seems a tad optimistic and didn’t get much (any?) support.

  • Greenflag 2

    SF thought wrongly but it probably did no harm to listen to the actuality of what happened in the German reunification process once the Wall was knocked down , I would’nt put too much play on polls re Irish reunification . I’d suggest that opposition to a UI is largely from the Unionist political side and that from the Nationalist/Republican side there is less ‘romanticism ‘ re unification and a lot more pragmatic common sense . The ebb and flow of polls is to be expected as those who are most concerned probably pay more attention to the minutiae of what happens in NI . Most people ( 90 % ) in the Republic don’t .
    They have other priorities .

    In the present Assembly less vacuum and the recent histrionics of walk outs etc its not surprising to see poll numbers fluctuate .

    As for the ‘drifting apart ‘ . I would instead suggest that it is NI that is drifting apart – not geologically – but in terms of it’s political values – social attitudes and unease with it’s present economic quandary from not just the Republic but from the modern UK . And that drift is more pronounced on the unionist side of the political fence than on the green side -though on the green side SF are finding that their political responses in the Republic to voters issues can’t be simply a copy and paste of their response in NI .

    There are no political unionists in the Irish Republic which remains one of the country’s main attractions 😉 which Northern SF types find strangely disconcerting if not uncomfortable and dare I say it they may even miss their Northern opponents 😉

    While I largely agree with David McCann’s analysis and prescription -it is much easier said than done- and may not be possible – given the difficulties posed by the policies being pursued by the current Westminster government and those posed by globalisation generally on large sections of the population of these islands ..

    Demographic change may outpace Dave’s preferred prescription given the time frame in which a major economic turnaround could /would take effect. Its in that scenario that the danger of a return to ‘aggressive ‘ methods of pushing for or violently opposing reunification lie .

    Events as MacMillan dryly pointed out also have a habit of upsetting the political equilibrium and Northern Ireland is not immune from such- just like both Germanies in 1990 .

    The only black swans I can see on the horizon which could impact NI are Brexit and Scottish independence . The former I believe/hope won’t happen and the latter may be a decade away although the current Tory Government may expedite the process .

  • Nigel Watson


    Returning to political message boards…I feel like a reformed alcoholic who is falling off the wagon!!!

    Surely someone like me (a persuadable northern prod) needs a plan to let me assess how I would vote?

    I travel in the south a lot…my honest assessment is that southerners are perhaps closer to 33% in favour of a UI (those who said yes, even with more tax) than any other figure

    My father (a farmers son from Ahoghill, who’s father was a unionist councillor) has more affinity with southerners than me…my children (despite my best efforts…blame Easyjet perhaps) have less affinity than me with the south…I see a generational drift apart. Not that this is good or bad, just that UI is less of an issue & less likely with the drift of time

  • Just on the money, the cost of Ger Unification was 10s of billions of DM, and a special tax to pay for it (still being paid). Don’t think Ger would be up to paying for reuniting Ireland without a significant local tax hike to cover cost (corporation tax perhaps?). Remember too that South public sector is about 35% of GDP where NI is twice that, so the cost would be in a slashing of the Northern public sector, unless Southerners would be happy to cover all those highly protected jobs. Good luck with all that.

  • And Germany and the might DM could afford it at that point.

  • Pasty2012

    Mick, people in the main will always look to how well off they are if they put themselves into certain situations. Over the last number of years it has been reported over and over how bad things are down south and there being austerity measures by the bucket full. At the same time as the Austerity down South the North has been shielded from any cuts and people have not felt the economic downturn in the same ways as people down South or in GB. However the downturn in the South has gone and it is now the fastest growing economy not only in Europe but up near the top in the World, and this fact hasn’t been reported as much as the Austerity measures were. Now with the likely implementation of Welfare Reform and the many many cuts then there is likely to be a mindset change in the following 2 years or so. When the cuts bite and the introduction of Hospital charges following on with the added Prescription charges then the North will not look so good when considering the question of voting to stay in the UK or for a UI.
    If the English aren’t going to pay for the privilege of having the people of the North in that Union then why should they stay. The Unionists may well be laying a very firm base for the building that they don’t want through their Welfare Cuts.
    Funny thought that isn’t it.

  • doopa

    Any reference for the public sector being 70% of GDP in NI?

  • Trasna

    It’s way above what the Scottish nationalists started with. The surprising thing is the 14% of Protestants in favour in their lifetime and the 20 odd % of the don’t knows. Way higher than I would have imagined .

    I would like to see a border poll in the next few years , but one that settles the issue once and for all. An amendment to the GFA is required. If the vote is no, then Irish citizenship expires on death. Not transferable to their children. A splits in all All Ireland bodies,. No more funding from the Rep. Billions have been pumped into NI with no recognition from the unionist parties of that funding.

    I’m tired and bored of NI dominating issues between the Rep and UK. Time we did business without reference or consideration to NI.

    I don’t want this issue dominating political discourse for the 21st century, like it did the 20th.

    Nearly 20 years after the GFA, there’s little political improvement. 27 years after WW2, Germany was back in the world fold, holding bot the Olympics and World Cup in ’72 & 74.

    If Europe can move on, what the hell can’t NI?

  • Trasna

    Personally I don’t care, but I’d like a vote soon in full and final settlement.

  • last time i was at school twice 35% was 70%.

  • because the idea is a national (group) romanticism and the world is increasingly personal, individual, and connected through (global,social) communities rather than the parish.

  • doopa

    Wikipedia puts it at 20%. So I’m curious where 70% comes from?

  • mickfealty

    I think you make a good point. For people like us, maybe that’s right. But perhaps too few of us still live/operate within the lives of our parishes. However most people still do, according to philosopher Julian Baggini’s study called Everytown from a few years back. I’d cite Scotland as a good example of collective identity still have the power to draw people out into the collective again.