(by Concubhar Ó Liatháin, Irelandclick.com)
Less than 50% of the population of Northern Ireland now support retaining the link with the UK, the Belfast based Irish language newspaper Lá reports exclusively in this week's edition.
According to the annual Northern Ireland Life and Times political attitudes survey, the number of people supporting the Union is now at 49.3%, down a massive 22% since 1989 when it stood at 71%. The same survey suggests that the number of people who want Northern Ireland to "re-unite with the rest of Ireland" stands at 28.3%
The fall in support for the Union will come as a major confidence booster for Sinn Féin and the SDLP while it will be a cause for concern for unionist parties.
The political attitudes survey is carried out on a yearly basis by researchers from the University of Ulster. Approximately 1,800 people were interviewed in November and December of last year.
The main part of the political attitudes survey was published on the internet at www.ark.ac.uk/nilt but initially a file not found report was the only response to be had by those clicking on the question; what do you think the long term policy for Northern Ireland should be? The data about the response to the question was not published until a week later. However it does not tally exactly with the findings of the survey, a complete copy of which has been seen by Lá.
In the online version, the figure quoted as supporting the Union is 50% while 28% are quoted as supporting re-unification with the rest of Ireland. The discrepancy was explained by a UU official involved in the publication of the survey on the web as a software feature. The official said the computer programme had chosen which figure to round up and round down.
Among other findings of the survey are:
- a startling jump in the number of Catholics declaring themselves as nationalists, up from 40% in 1989 to 65% in 2001.
- a significant number of Protestants (44%) would find it difficult but would be prepared to live in a United Ireland. Only 26.1% would find it impossible to live in a United Ireland, just marginally more than the number who would be happy to do so if that was the wish of the majority.
- approximately 34% of both Catholics and Protestants believe Ireland will be re-united within 20 years.
The authors of the survey ascribed the growth in Catholics professing themselves to be nationalists as a result of the IRA ceasefire and the growing confidence of the nationalist community within Northern Ireland. The survey also indicates that Catholics are most positive (51%) about the Assembly and other devolved institutions while only 31% of Protestants believe they have a greater say in running Northern Ireland since devolution.
Despite this, a small majority of protestants believe the devolved institutions, Assembly, Executive, Cross-border and East-West bodies, will be still up and running in three years time.
This article appeared first on the Irelandclick.com web site on July 9, 2002.