MORE THAN half of Catholics in Northern Ireland want the long-term future of the North to be as part of the United Kingdom, while only 16 per cent of the overall population favour a united Ireland, according to a new survey.
The Northern Ireland Life and Times survey found that just one in three Catholics (33 per cent) wants a united Ireland, while 52 per cent want the North to stay in the UK, with 46 per cent of Catholics happy with the devolved arrangements and 6 per cent favouring a return to direct rule from Westminster.
In contrast, nine out of 10 Protestants want the union with Britain to continue, with 69 per cent supporting devolution and 21 per cent in support of direct rule – 4 per cent of Protestants favour unification.
Just one in 100 Protestants and four in 100 Catholics believe in an independent Northern Ireland.
Overall, 73 per cent believe the long-term policy for the North should be maintaining the union, with 58 per cent supporting devolution and 15 per cent in favour of direct rule. Just 16 per cent want a united Ireland, with 3 per favouring an independent Northern Ireland.
There is an interesting comparison with the first Life and Times survey in 1998, the year of the Belfast Agreement. Then just 19 per cent of Catholics favoured maintaining the union, while 49 per cent wanted unity. One in 10 Catholics then favoured an independent Northern Ireland.
This latest survey was carried out between October and December last year with a representative group of 1,205 adults questioned, according to the Life and Times survey. The surveys are carried out under the Ark social and political information website run by Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Barry McElduff said the finding that only 16 per cent of the population desired unification was “very hard to view as credible” and the real debate should be resolved by calling a referendum on a united Ireland.
“The Life and Times survey needs to ask why it arrives at a figure of only 16 per cent of people within the North wanting a united Ireland when, with Sinn Féin’s clear position of uniting this country, the party received over 26 per cent of the vote in the latest election,” he said.
DUP Assembly member Robin Newton said the survey showed that support for a united Ireland had plummeted to an all-time low.
“For many years political nationalism has relied upon what is politely termed ‘demographic change’ to deliver their goal of a united Ireland. It is clear that a figure of 73 per cent of people favouring the UK must include people who are not from a Protestant community background.”