North and South methodology: How we took the pulse of Ireland on unity

Irish Times and ARINS undertook research on the future of the island

Today sees the publication of the first instalment of North and South – a collaboration between The Irish Times and ARINS, which is a joint research project of the Royal Irish Academy and the Keough-Naughton Centre for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

The project consists of two major, in-depth opinion polls conducted simultaneously in Northern Ireland and the Republic and also a series of focus groups which aimed to tease out the issues in moderated discussions. It is jointly funded by The Irish Times and ARINS and the results will be rolled out over several days in December and January.

NI Poll top image

The aim of the project is to provide independent and unbiased information on the state of public opinion in both jurisdictions on the constitutional future of the island, on what influences the views of people, how they might change in the future and what a united Ireland – if it were ever to happen – might look like. The survey and focus groups also examine the state of relations between people in the two parts of the island.

At a time when the constitutional question is becoming a live and contested political issue, The Irish Times and ARINS will seek to provide a reference point for clear information, available to all sides in the debate and none, to academic researchers, the readers of The Irish Times and the general public. ARINS is devoted to Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South and providing evidence-based options for the future of the island, North and South.


The questionnaire for the surveys and focus groups were drawn up after extensive discussions between The Irish Times and Prof Brendan O’Leary of the University of Pennsylvania and Prof John Garry of Queen’s University, as well as other academics associated with the ARINS project. The research was conducted by Ipsos Northern Ireland in the North and separately by Ipsos in Dublin in the Republic.

Ipsos Northern Ireland surveyed a representative sample of 1,009 citizens, based on 100 sampling points randomly chosen from across Northern Ireland. Quotas were set for age, gender, socio-economic grouping and region. A political weighting was applied to correct for slight deviations from the May Assembly election result. Fieldwork was conducted between August 17th and October 15th, 2022, using in-home, computer-assisted personal interviewing.

North and South, Ireland is divided on the unity question

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Two group discussions were conducted on October 11th and 13th. Participants in each group varied by age, gender, place of residence and religion background. However, all participants were similar in that they were likely to vote if there was a referendum on Irish unity, and they were either undecided as to how they would vote or held a view that was open to argument and change. Each group discussion lasted two hours and was transcribed, consistent with participant anonymity. Thirteen participants were involved in total.

Similar model

The process in the Republic followed a similar model, and the surveys were almost identical, with only slight variations for political differences such as party allegiance, etc. Ipsos surveyed a national quota sample of 1,000 people, covering 100 sampling points throughout all constituencies in the Republic. Personal in-home interviewing took place between August 12th and October 24th.

Four group discussions were conducted in Dublin and Mullingar, Co Westmeath, among undecided voters and those open to changing their voting intention, with participants drawn from numerous constituencies and different demographic groups.

The results of the surveys and focus groups have been analysed by The Irish Times and by Prof O’Leary and Prof Garry. They will be reported and discussed over several days in December and January. When that process is complete, the data will be made publicly available. It is intended that the series will be repeated in future years.

Biographies: Academic partners

John Garry is professor of political behaviour, and director of the Democracy Unit, at Queen’s University Belfast. He has published widely on public opinion, voting behaviour, and deliberation in Ireland, North and South. He wrote Consociation and Voting in Northern Ireland: Party Competition and Electoral Behaviour (University of Pennsylvania Press) and co-authored The Irish Voter (Manchester University Press). He is currently leading the Northern Ireland Assembly Election Study, 2022, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

Brendan O’Leary is Lauder professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, and honorary professor of political science at Queen’s University Belfast – and a member of its Democracy Unit. An honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy, his recent books include A Treatise on Northern Ireland (Oxford University Press) and Making Sense of a United Ireland (Penguin Ireland). He chairs the public opinion committee of ARINS, a joint initiative of the Royal Irish Academy and the University of Notre Dame.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times