More than half of people believe there should be referendums on Irish unity north and south of the Border within the next five years, the general election exit poll suggests.
The question of holding a Border poll on unification was asked as part of a wider poll of 5,376 people interviewed at 259 count centres across the country after they voted. The answers were collected for a poll commissioned by The Irish Times, RTÉ, TG4 and UCD.
Some 57 per cent of a base of 1,000 people said there should be referendums in the Republic and Northern Ireland within the next five years – a position that is supported by Sinn Féin.
Some 40 per cent said that referendums should not be held; 3 per cent had no response. Younger voters were more supportive of a Border poll than older voters.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson described the number of people in favour of a Border poll as surprisingly low.
“Well, I’m surprised the figure is as low as this in the Irish Republic, and I think that indicates that there is little consensus on the need for a Border poll,” he said.
“I would imagine the figure in Northern Ireland would be much less than that, and therefore at a time when we need a period of political stability, no one in their right mind is going to push for a Border poll, because it would be highly divisive, highly polarising and destabilising for the political situation at this time.”
The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, said: “It’s really none of their business. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, not part of Ireland, so the views of the Irish on a referendum in respect of another country are totally irrelevant.”
‘Out of touch’
Sinn Féin's deputy leader, Pearse Doherty, who topped the poll in Donegal, said the exit poll clearly showed both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were "out of touch" regarding the demand for unity.
“We’ve been saying throughout this campaign and before the campaign that people are talking about Irish unity, people want to see Irish unity and particularly, they want the government to start planning for Irish unity.”
He said the poll reflected what Sinn Féin had heard during the election campaign. “What we’re seeing in the polls is this is growing in momentum, and the support that Sinn Féin have got, it’s coming up on the doors, it came up to me on the canvass.
“They want to see a new Ireland – not a 26 plus six stitched on – but a new Ireland.” For a referendum to happen in five years, he said, “we need to have the preparations starting now. Sinn Féin have been very clear. There is the need for an all-Ireland forum or a citizen’s assembly that is inclusive ... so that we can path out what does a new Ireland look like, [and] how we ensure that the rights and entitlements, the identity of those who see themselves as British are respected and cherished in that new type of Ireland.”
Among those questions, he said, would be the institutional apparatus of any new state and how the transition period would work.
“All of these issues are being discussed, but not being discussed at government level, and I think that’s very clearly what you’re hearing in the exit poll, particularly among young people, who see the future as an Ireland that is reunited but that has rights at its cornerstone,” he said.
“This is a no-brainer. We’ve seen what happened in Britain, we’ve seen with Brexit, where a vote was won or lost, depending on your perspective, with absolutely no planning, no preparation, no discussion of what it meant.
Some 75 per cent of voters aged 18-24 said there should be referendums on the question of Irish unity, while 60 per cent aged 25-34 said there should be referendums. Some 62 per cent of people aged 35-49 were in favour of polls.
The figure in support of a Border poll dropped to 54 per cent of people aged 50-64, while those aged 65 or over were the only age group where a majority did not want to see a Border poll. Just 47 per cent were in favour of a Border poll and 49 per cent against.
Geographically, support for referendums on Irish unity was strongest in Connacht/Ulster, where 61 per cent wanted to see a Border poll, followed by 60 per cent in Dublin, 56 per cent in the rest of Leinster and 54 per cent in Munster.
Some 56 per cent of men and 59 per cent of women wanted to see a Border poll.
Among party voters, 81 per cent of Sinn Féin voters wanted referendums on Irish unity compared with 52 per cent among Fianna Fáil voters and 44 per cent among both Fine Gael and Labour voters.
The biggest opposition to a Border poll was among Fine Gael supporters, with 54 per cent opposed to the idea. Some 52 per cent of Labour voters did not want to see a Border poll.