Unity – the North says No for now

Surveys and public opinion

Sir, – Further to “Northern Ireland rejects Irish unity by large margin, poll shows” (News, December 3rd), of those in Northern Ireland who would vote to keep it in the UK, how many actually have Irish passports ? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Surveys have been shown to be very poor tools to predict results in constitutional referendums. Constitutional referendums are abstractions until they are called and it is only in these, rather than surveys, that the true opinion of all the people can be expressed. For example, when David Cameron sat down with Alex Salmond to sign a bill allowing Scots to vote on their own future in 2012, surveys reported only 28 per cent to 32 per cent of Scots supporting independence but on the day of polling in 2014, less than two years later, 45 per cent supported independence. And, in what is now the bitterest irony, this was based on Scotland bring threatened by the UK government that only by staying in the UK could they be guaranteed EU membership. This suggests that surveys cannot be used to predict the outcome of constitutional referendums or as key criteria for calling such referendums. And that the only survey that matters is the vote itself.


People cannot give an indication of how they will vote in a constitutional referendum if they think the poll will never happen or will happen too far in the future.

People know there will be a Stormont or Westminster election every four or five years time but they have no idea if a unity poll will ever happen.

As we saw in the Scottish referendum it was only when the referendum date was set that people’s views became clear, that a real rather than an abstract debate happened and support for independence rose relative to what surveys suggested.

There is clear evidence that these surveys and opinion polls do not accurately predict the outcome of these type of referendums. They are only suitable for the likes of voting intention for political parties at elections at agreed scheduled intervals where they offer stability. For constitutional issues they are counterproductive red herrings even when just looking at trends.

Small sample surveys at a point in time on abstract questions that are not backed up by a referendum are of very questionable use and will favour the status quo. They sell newspapers but cannot be used to make decisions on constitutional matters.

Broad demographic patterns and votes for political parties are, for example, infinitely more relevant. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I would suggest that we should relax about the constitutional question. Most of us in Northern Ireland do not want to marry you in the Republic, just as many of you have qualms about getting “exclusive” with us, but we would all like to be great friends.

We can enjoy being separate, yet love being together.

It’s often ignored that, despite our history, there are already some 200 all-Ireland bodies covering a whole range of issues from sport to business. In addition, in many areas there are separate bodies but they usually cooperate closely for mutual benefit.

We have business and family connections, friendships and social interactions through holidays and common interests on shared issues. Such connections also proliferate on an east-west basis in these shared islands.

Northern Ireland is doing okay both socially and economically and I am going to avoid the tendency to focus the debate too much on drawing comparisons between the two parts of the island. Steady as she goes is my advice.

We all have challenges on the day to day aspects of our lives at present, as well as international issues. It is better to focus our energies on tackling those, while also facing down the hatreds that caused so much tragedy in our past. They seem to be raising their ugly heads again and we can counteract them by continuing to build the meaningful relationships that are the bedrock of any successful society. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The findings from the opinion poll are enlightening on several fronts. The results from Northern Ireland are more nuanced than might have previously been considered the case whereby outcomes are not simply determined on religious grounds. What is very clear though is the lack of desire for a united Ireland from a significant majority of the population.

One clear conclusion that is obvious from the findings in the North is that Sinn Féin needs to shift its rhetoric on both sides of the Border from talk of imminent border polls to acknowledging that there is no basis whatsoever for such a development either now or in the medium term future.

Instead, what is needed is political discourse underpinned by credible data and analysis based on economic and social science which can further inform the adult debate which the island as a whole needs to have. If Brexit taught us anything it is that such an approach is needed to support citizens on both sides of the Border in making decisions from a position of both understanding and recognising likely future realities and consequences. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – It should come as no surprise that most people in Northern Ireland are averse to unity with the rest of Ireland. The Belfast Agreement means that all national identities are supported; people can have UK or Irish passports, or both. Now, thanks to the Brexit protocol, people in NI have tariff-free access to both UK and EU markets. This puts consumers and businesses in NI at a distinct advantage over people anywhere else in Europe or indeed the world. With Irish unity, they would lose that uniquely favourable position. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 18.