Irish unity is not likely to command majority support in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future, a survey has found. Most people want the province to remain indefinitely as part of the United Kingdom. This is favoured by 54%, compared to 30% who want a united Ireland.
The annual Northern Ireland Life and Times survey, conducted by the province's two universities, has found that traditional constitutional issues are concerning people less. Some 40% of those surveyed – including 30% of Protestants and 42% of Catholics – said they were neither nationalist nor unionist.
Support for remaining in the UK is nearly unanimous among Protestants (85%) and commands the support of 22% of Catholics, of whom just over half (56%) favour Irish unity. If a united Ireland never comes, some 86% of Catholics say they would accept the popular will. On the other hand, if there is a majority vote for Irish unity, 84% of Protestants would either happily accept it (31%) or could at least live with it (53%).
As the marching season approaches, there is evidence of strong opposition to its traditional activities: 76% of Protestants and 86% of Catholics oppose flags being flown, while 12% actively support the idea. Around nine in 10 in both communities would like their neighbourhoods and workplaces to be politically neutral.
There is hope that sectarianism is declining: only 4% of people think Catholic/Protestant relationships are likely to deteriorate over the next five years. Many expressed willingness to form friendships with people of other Christian denominations; only 15% said they would object strongly if a relative married someone of another religion. Large majorities in both communities say they would like to see more mixed neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.
Only a tiny minority (5%) think that either Catholics or Protestants are "generally treated unfairly when compared with other groups". By contrast 39% thought ethnic minorities were treated unfairly and 31% felt that bisexuals, gays and lesbians were discriminated against.
This also came through when people expressed their attitudes to interracial marriage. Three out of four wouldn't mind a close relative marrying someone of another religion but 87% said they wouldn't readily accept a relative marrying a traveller, while 84% wouldn't accept a marriage to a Muslim and 75% one to a person from an ethnic minority.
In the poll, 53% wouldn't find travellers acceptable as Northern Ireland residents, and 82% would not accept them as friends.