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Poll reveals information about prospect of united Ireland

| Monday, February 6, 2023

A recent poll conducted in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland revealed information about public opinion regarding the unification of Ireland and other related items. The poll was a combined effort of the Irish Times and the joint research organization Analyzing and Researching Ireland North and South (ARINS). The organization is a collaboration between the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at Notre Dame and the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

According to director of the Keough-Naughton Institute, Patrick Griffin, after the United Kingdom left the European Union, the institute was approached by the Royal Irish Academy and asked to help research the ways in which both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were going to be affected by the development. 

Brexit created many challenges for not only the British state, but also for the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Griffin said. For the first time since the Good Friday Agreement, the border has become a live question.

“Brexit necessitates a border in some way, shape, or form. With it, unless you change the status of Northern Ireland within Britain, you can’t have the free flow of people and the free flow of goods. The Good Friday agreement relied on fluid movement between north and south. Some are concerned that the agreement will be strained,” Griffin said. “And people have been really kind of stretching their brains to try to figure out a way of squaring a circle of ensuring that you could have Northern Ireland be in the European Union, but not really in the European Union. Can Northern Ireland be bound to Ireland but also bound to Britain at the same time? That’s the question people are trying to figure out.”

The recent poll asked 1,000 respondents in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland how they would vote in a referendum based on their current views and related questions. Voters in Northern Ireland would have elected to stay in the United Kingdom. Of those who answered this question, 50% of pollers said they wanted to stay in the U.K., and 27% of pollers would support Irish unification. 

66% of pollers in the Republic of Ireland support Irish unification. This means there is more than twice as much support for Irish unification in Ireland compared to that in Northern Ireland. 

But voter opinion becomes much more complex when asked certain questions about what unification would actually entail. 

“There hasn’t been much in-depth thinking, in the South certainly, about what a united Ireland would mean,” Pat Leahy, political editor of The Irish Times, said during an In The News podcast episode. “While you have these very large majorities of people who reflexively say ‘yes, I would like a united Ireland,’ the number of people who have, or the proportion of those who have actually thought about what it would mean and what they may be perhaps prepared to do to bring it about and to make it a success, is much, much smaller.” 

If Irish unification were to result from a referendum, the new state would have to deal with a large minority of people who might find themselves alienated, Leahy said. The study found an unwillingness of many people in the south to support changes to the political arrangements and political symbols of a potential united Ireland in order to accommodate Unionists.

Researchers also conducted a number of focus groups of undecided voters in the north and south to understand the concerns. These include economic consequences of a united Ireland, concerns regarding public services and the prospective return to violence, Leahy said. 

In addition to questions about identity and related political ideas, Griffin said ARINS is exploring the ways in which unification would impact the daily lives of those in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

“There’s all other sorts of things that matter to people on a day-to-day basis that we’re also studying like infrastructure, transportation, and health systems in the north and south,”  Griffin said. “Is there more cooperation? Is there a way for people to realize that they share an island? This is also the work that we’re doing.”

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About Gabrielle Beechert

Gabrielle is currently a senior at Notre Dame majoring in neuroscience and behavior with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She currently serves as Assistant Managing Editor at The Observer.

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