What comes out very clearly in our survey — and this is the first time I’ve seen this — is that people who are pro-union are stating that they will think about Irish unity if the assembly doesn’t come back. Unionist behaviour has driven away sectors of [its] electorate.
Here’s the detail…
Despite fevered speculation about border polls, the FT notes, “polls show most in Northern Ireland don’t want reunification; most in the south do, but don’t want to have to pay for it; and a “border poll” can only be called by the UK government“.
More starkly still, Shirlow said neither Brexit, nor a growing public conversation about reunification or a “new Ireland” in recent months, had made a significant impact on people’s attitudes towards unity in Northern Ireland.
Overall the share saying that they would vote for a united Ireland tomorrow is down 5% since last June 2023. In terms of faith/no faith 60% of Catholics, 10% of Protestants and 18% of non-religious would vote for a united Ireland tomorrow.
Amongst Alliance voters, who express an opinion, there remains a 2-1 ratio with regard to remaining in the UK. But if you introduce a hypothetical that should the Assembly remain down, then that figure rises to 54%.
To the question, ‘the Windsor Framework means the DUP should re-enter the Executive and the Assembly’ 53% (and some 48% of Unionists) agreed and just 13% disagreed, with 22% saying they didn’t know.
We must be careful of hypotheticals. A whole swathe once predicated a near to 50/50 status on a united Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit that never materialised. The future is non linear. However continuance of lost power at Stormont is not cost free.
The question here for the DUP to consider is that whilst unionism overall has lost vote share to parties that are non aligned on the constitutional questions thus far there is still a considerable pro UK (2/1) sentiment in that group, that change.
As Shirlow notes in his oped for the Irish News this morning…
Even a statistically significant share of unionists agreed. It is not Brexit or arguments for unification that persuade but the behaviour of unionism.
Unionism needs to read the room. Significant majorities of unionists support the restoration of the Assembly, that its return will challenge societal needs and that access to both the EU and UK markets is vital to the economy.
They are enthusiastic for the DUP’s requests for a Green Lane that would facilitate a better flow of goods and the establishment of an UK centred East-West council.
Over twice as many DUP voters agree ‘… that there are issues within the Windsor Framework … but these are not as important as restoring the Assembly …’.
Among DUP voters nearly 40% oppose the Windsor Framework meaning the majority neither agree or disagree, do not know or disagree, hardly evidence of hard-line majority DUP thinking.
If we’re sitting now, as Kevin Meagher argued this morning on Nolan at 40% nationalist, 40% unionist, and 20% neither, up to now, the union is far more popular than unionism. That’s largely because the latter has failed to read a changing room.
As Shirlow argues it has failed to anticipate “the rise in secularism and social liberalism” which has created a serious detachment from its own traditional mores. In a ‘long peace’, after all, people must want the Union for it to survive.
Continued failure to recognise the political climate change within Northern Irish society in line with the liberal mores of the unconstitutionalised middle may yet see unionism slowly ease defeat from the jaws of its, thus far, enduring victory.
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