We asked respondents to the Irish Times/ARINS surveys to indicate what they regarded as the most important issues that need to be addressed over the next 10 years.
The three biggest priorities, both North and South, were “economic growth and prosperity”, “more and better housing for all”’ and “increased funding and improvements in healthcare”. But there were differences regarding the top priority. Housing was chosen by 79 per cent of respondents in the South compared to 65 per cent in the North (with very similar proportions of Catholics and Protestants). The top priority in the North was healthcare, chosen by 86 per cent of respondents (with identical levels of Catholics and Protestants), compared to 71 per cent% in the South.
In both the South and the North the fourth most prioritised topic was “contributing to better management of climate change”, though this topic was deemed significantly more important in the South (46 per cent) than the North (31 per cent).
Examining Northern Catholics, however, the fourth most important topic for them is Irish unity: either preparing for a unity referendum or achieving unity (35 per cent pick one or other or both). The equivalent figure in the South is 24 per cent, where it is ranked half as important as climate change, and on a par with Covid recovery.
Just over one quarter of Northerners prioritise Northern Ireland staying in the UK. Half of Protestants do so, twice the proportion of Protestants who prioritise climate change, and 2½ times as many as those who prioritise Covid recovery.
These findings suggest that the constitutional question (either Irish unity or staying in the UK) is not the most immediate priority for many South and North (and for Catholics and Protestants), compared the core issues of material wellbeing – housing, health, and economic growth.
But there is big variation in the prioritisation that the constitutional question attracts – it is more strongly prioritised by Northerners (particularly Protestants) than by Southerners.
Just 12 per cent of Southerners prioritise “preparing for a referendum on a united Ireland”. As reported earlier in this series that is a much lower figure than the two-thirds of Southerners who would vote for Irish unity in a referendum. One of the biggest challenges for advocates of Irish unity from the Irish Times/ARINS findings is persuading Southerners of the importance of preparing for the unification that they clearly say they want.
- Read all our pieces in the series to date here North and South - The Irish Times