The North and South series reached its conclusion this week with our reports on the last tranche of research results. The full series of articles, dating from early December, can be found on irishtimes.com.
The series was the result of a joint research project between The Irish Times and Arins, itself a collaboration between the Royal Irish Academy and the University of Notre Dame in the US. Arins is devoted to Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South, and academics from the group worked with The Irish Times in first designing and then interpreting the results of two major opinion polls conducted by Ipsos in Northern Ireland and the Republic, and of a series of focus groups in each jurisdiction.
The intention was to examine attitudes to the constitutional future of the island, as well as political and personal relations between North and South more broadly, and to present and interpret the findings independently, clearly and without bias or agenda. It is hoped that the series will become a resource for conversations on these topics now and in the future.
The results were complex and nuanced – but also, in places, simple and clear. There is a desire for a Border poll in both parts of the island. But the results would be very different: a clear no to unity in Northern Ireland, an overwhelming yes in the Republic. These are not fixed points, however; it is apparent that just as the politics of the Republic has changed dramatically over the past decade, the bedrock of the North’s politics is also shifting – the unionist majority is ebbing away, the middle ground is growing, the once universal coincidence of constitutional preference with religious background is fraying. There is a conversation waiting to be had.
But this is a conversation that many voters in the Republic seem to believe will be very one-sided. There is a considerable resistance south of the Border to changes in the constitutional and political arrangements and symbols that might make a future united Ireland more appealing – or at least less unappealing – to traditional unionist voters in the North. Asked about the shape of a possible future united Ireland, voters in the North favour a devolved model, retaining the separateness of the North, albeit within an all-Ireland framework; southern voters prefer a unitary state, with its capital in Dublin, with Northern Ireland as a separate entity ceasing to exist. Current southern attitudes seem unlikely to overcome the substantial minority of Northern Irish voters who would find a united Ireland very difficult to accept.
The project was undertaken because discussions about a united Ireland are now part of Irish political debate in a way they were not before. The results have shown that to make that aspiration a reality, and a success, very considerable obstacles will have to be overcome.