Unionists fear return to violence, loss of identity in united Ireland – new study

Senator Mark Daly says Government must establish second New Ireland Forum

Loss of identity and land, nationalist "triumphalism" and renewed violence are among the fears unionists hold about the prospect of a united Ireland, according to a new survey.

The research carried out by Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly identified seven key areas of unionist concern.

They were worried about a loss of identity and the place of unionism within a united Ireland; "triumphalism" by nationalists and retribution on former members of the RUC, British Army and prison officers.

They were also afraid of land being taken from unionist farmers; the potential for a return to violence, and the possibility of remaining in or returning to the European Union after the UK voted for Brexit. Concerns about healthcare, welfare and the economy were also highlighted.


Mr Daly said he spent the past 18 months compiling the research, meeting people from the Protestant, unionist and loyalist communities, including former paramilitary leaders.

Among those who responded to Mr Daly's survey were the Rev Kyle Paisley, a son of the late Rev Ian Paisley; former Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt; former Presbyterian moderator Dr Norman Hamilton, and human rights activist Raymond McCord.

In making his submission Rev Paisley queried "if there is no unity in the six counties of Northern Ireland how can there be heart-felt unity across thirty-two counties?" Mr Paisley also said that perhaps it was economics more than anything else that influenced people's political outlook.

"The United Kingdom is by no means a flawless political union. But then again there's the old proverb - better the devil you know than the devil you don't."

The report’s title is: ‘Unionist Concerns and Fears of a United Ireland: The need to Protect the Peace Process and Build a Vision for a Shared Island and a United People’.

Mr Daly said it was the responsibility of the Irish Government to address unionist concerns and to this end it should establish a second New Ireland Forum, similar to the last forum for political dialogue set up in 1996.

He commissioned Dr James Wilson, a former member of the British army who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles to conduct focus groups with members of the Independent Orange Order; a loyalist flute band; veterans of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment, and members of the Methodist East Belfast Mission.

Mr Nesbitt in his submission said Northern Ireland needed a long period of stability for its people to prosper. “A unionist’s primary goal is to maintain the union. If it goes, that aspiration disappears, to be replaced with what? Despair? Fear? Anger?” He added: “A united Ireland is a counter-intuitive offer for a unionist.”

Mr McCord asked in a united Ireland, “Will the Gardaí have a 50-50 policy? …Will the street names be in English? Will the Union Jack be flown? Will the tricolour only be flown on certain days? Will playparks be named after loyalist terrorists? Will Orange lodges be able to march through O’Connell Street?”

Presbyterian Minister Dr Hamilton said it appeared to him “that those who seek a united Ireland have little skill in, or interest in, uniting communities and building relationships as the necessary conditions for deep political discourse of huge constitutional import”.

One “senior Orangeman” said that in the Northern Ireland state that nationalists “have grown, thrived, united, mobilised and eventually resorted to disruption and an armed struggle to thwart the democratic wish of the majority in that jurisdiction. That would be my response to a united Ireland”.

In one of the focus groups 14 members of a loyalist flute band in Co Derry were asked how they would react if Northern Ireland voted by 50 per cent plus one for a united Ireland. None of them said they would accept the democratic decision peacefully while 57 per cent said they “would support resistance by physical force and protest”.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times