Today’s publication of the first tranche of data from this year’s edition of The Irish Times/ARINS surveys shows that the blunt answers to the constitutional question that may face both jurisdictions on this island have not changed since last year – the Republic says yes to unity, but Northern Ireland says no.
The two opinion polls confirm the findings of last year and show that the prospect of a Border poll is one that is not likely in the immediate future. The conditions required for the calling of a poll under the Belfast Agreement – that Northern Ireland is likely to vote for unity – are manifestly not present. That does not mean, however, that the question should not be explored, discussed, researched and investigated from all angles.
Best to approach that question not from the quicksand of supposition and partial assertion, but from the solid footing of empirical fact. Those facts, established by professional, impartial research, will be laid out in The Irish Times in the coming days, and interrogated by our academic collaborators from the ARINS project, itself a product of co-operation between the Royal Irish Academy and the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Readers can, of course, draw their own conclusions from the data.
While today’s findings make clear that a referendum on a united Ireland is, barring a dramatic and unlikely change of heart on the part of very many people in Northern Ireland, a prospect that is well into the future, it is also clear that there are some notable changes from last year’s findings.
Hardline unionist opposition to a united Ireland, measured by those who say they would find a vote for unity “almost impossible to accept” has diminished since last year. The data suggest an acceptance, even among those strongly opposed, that discussions on the subject are underway. The importance of economics, both on a macro and a personal scale, is evident and will be a particular focus in this year’s research.
There are complex questions of economics here, based in part of the public finance costs if the UK subvention were withdrawn and how this would all be managed. But there is also a wider agenda looking, for example, at options for co-operation and the delivery of public services.
The argument over Ireland’s future has raged for centuries, and continues to evolve. For those committed to defending the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, it is clear the times are changing and that they will have to win arguments for the benefits of the union if they are to prevail. Those who campaign for a united Ireland must realise that more important than winning a vote is making the project a success.
In the research published today and to come, there are lessons for those on all sides, and on none.