‘Southerners think Northern Ireland is as foreign as Siberia’: Readers respond to the North and South research findings

Quantitative survey was conducted among more than 1,000 voters in each of the jurisdictions

NI POLL Call-out

We invited readers to respond to the findings of our North and South series. It is a collaboration between The Irish Times and ARINS (Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South), 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 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. A full archive of all articles in the series is available here North and South - The Irish Times.

Some readers were particularly exercised by the findings that two-thirds of people in the Republic say they have no friends in Northern Ireland, more than 80 per cent say they have no relations there and more than half have not travelled across the Border in the past five years.

Northerners are more likely to have connections with the South than vice versa, but still more than half of the people in Northern Ireland say they have no friends in the Republic and two-thirds say they have no relations there.

‘Research points to a real arrogance from people in the South’

I am a Catholic from west Cork. I live in Edinburgh. I am married to an Ulster Protestant. I met him while we were both doing postgraduate studies in England. I would never have met him if I had stayed in Ireland as Ulster Protestants don’t tend to come to the South to study. He comes from a liberal background. Both parents vote Alliance. He has many schoolfriends in mixed marriages. I think the overall ratio is quite high in the North, which is a statistic that is often ignored. When I am in Northern Ireland, I always feel I am still in Britain. I am not sure if that is because I am visiting a Protestant household where the BBC, not RTÉ, is the dominant source of news and culture. I think the research points to a real arrogance from people in the South towards the North. No understanding of the complexities and how British many people feel, including Catholics. I think a united Ireland would only work if the North was still allowed devolved government. – Marion Wood, Edinburgh


‘It’s clear the UK government is washing its hands of Northern Ireland’

Moved to Canada in 1990 at the age of 39, with wife and three children. I suggest reunification of the island of Ireland with the following features: the Seanad to be in Belfast, with additional members from Northern Ireland. (Stormont would be a perfect location). The Dáil to be in Dublin, with additional members from Northern Ireland. (The constituencies are already established). All Ireland remains in the EU. I suspect that would be an easy sell in Europe. The Irish language ceases to be an official language of the State, and no longer takes precedence in law. The flag would be the Tricolour, with a red hand in the middle. The pint remains the pint (huge unifying feature; some things are sacred on both sides of the Border!). It’s clear that the UK government is washing its hands of Northern Ireland, and it falls to the Republic to ensure the welfare of all the people on the island, and extend a welcoming hand. Listen to their concerns, and respond with changes that make them welcome. – Bernie Roycroft, Nova Scotia, Canada

‘Too early to say how a Border poll would turn out’

Yet another article in The Irish Times stating that a future Border poll will need a plan so that the mistake of Brexit can be avoided. I do wish those correspondents in the South would recognise that the debate has already begun, led mainly by Ireland’s Future and, more recently, involving GAA members through Gaels Together. If only these correspondents and the Irish Government would get involved! My prediction is there will be a Border poll within the next decade. It’s too early to say how that will turn out. However, changing demographics in the North, along with the worsening economic outlook in the UK, particularly after Brexit, could see the breakup of the ‘precious’ union. It would also be great to see a Northern nationalist perspective presented in The Irish Times on a regular basis. This is totally lacking. – Danny Boyd, Belfast

‘Allaying bizarre suspicions life in a single Irish state’

The route to unification does not necessarily have to be through a single divisive win/lose (no going back) Border poll. Perhaps a staged pathway could be researched. I would suggest a poll on joint authority initially, followed at a later point by a soft federal North/South (with many institutions retaine) poll and only then a full Border poll but perhaps guaranteed to be followed 10 years afterwards by a confirmatory poll in a “trial period” approach.

There are so many incorrect and/or bizarre suspicions in unionist (and many nationalist) minds about what life in a single Irish state would be like that a lot more interaction, education and experience is required on all sides before full unification. As an example, a nationalist friend believed there was no unemployment support or state healthcare for people who are out of work in the Republic. – Michael Tallon, Belfast

‘The term ‘Nordie’ that has crept in to Southern vocabulary is deeply offensive’

There is one thing in particular that I want to draw attention to. It is about the term “Nordie” that has crept in to the Southern vocabulary. At its heart is the sentiment that people from the North are “other”, “different”, “lesser”…please accept that people living in northeastern Ulster find the term deeply offensive. Ask your Northern readers if they disagree with me. – Paul Donnelly, Belfast

‘Accommodation is much more reasonable in Belfast’

I am 34 years old and moved to work and live in Belfast five months ago. I moved to Belfast because I was accepted on to a sponsored doctorate in Queen’s University Belfast in education psychology. My stipend is paid to me by the Education Authority Northern Ireland where I undertake all of my course placements working with children in the NI education system. I find people so far have been generally very friendly but they do recognise my “Southern” accent and ask me about my background and what has drawn me to Belfast. No one has ever said anything to me about my car, which has an Irish registration, but I am cautious when I need to park it in unionist areas when I am attending local schools to meet students, parents or teachers.

I find accommodation much more reasonable at £400 a month and I can live off of monthly stipend of £1,400. This is the reason why I accepted the course over UCD as Dublin was becoming too expensive even with living at home. I have encountered a lot of banking issues. I have a UK account through BOI as I had an account with them registered in the Republic, so I set one up before I had an address in Belfast. I have a loan with the credit union from previous college studies that I have and unable to set up a standing order from my BOI UK account as the UK is no longer in SEPA. I have sometimes had to drive to Dundalk to withdraw money and cash lodge it into my BOI ROI account when a standing order is coming out and the transfer from the UK one is taking too long. – Enna-Louise D’Arcy, Belfast

‘Southerners think the North is somewhere as distant and foreign as Siberia’

I am from the North, studied in Trinity and have worked almost all of my time in the South. I recently moved back North but still work in Dublin. Southerners think the North is somewhere as distant and foreign as Siberia and Northerners are some form of “other”. The truth is completely different. The North is as Irish as anywhere else on the island and what’s more we are not as insular as our Southern brothers and sisters. We have a depth of humanity in our being arising from our circumstances and recent history that is very challenging for an average Southerner. There is also a conceitedness among Southerners about what “Irishness” is. Irishness is not completing the Leaving Cert, playing Gaelic football or hurling or some notion of a 26-county nation that ignores Irish unionists. I can’t wait for a new inclusive Ireland – but it will not simply be an extension of the partitionist state crafted by those who preferred to ignore their Northern brothers and sisters. I hope it’s a republic that values all cultures on this island. – P O’Neill, Co Tyrone

‘I will not see a united Ireland in my lifetime’

I will not see a united Ireland in my lifetime. The nonsense of Fianna Fáil’s “fourth green field” and Sinn Féinn’s equally unrealistic vision highlight the dreamy aspiration that has no basis in reality. The best future solution would be a federal arrangement, not some assumed rule from Dublin. – JJ Killian, Co Tipperary

‘It’s not about what we are, it’s about what we can become’

I identify as Jewish first and Irish second. If Ireland has a desire for some kind of unity, it can only come through education, by getting to know each other better. Here’s a thought: a TV series jointly made by RTÉ, BBC, UTV and VM with the common purpose of demystifying the differences between people on either side of the Border between us; of personalising the stories of those 30,000 workers that cross the Border every day; showing the areas of co-operation that have been forged over decades between the governments North and South. Accentuating the common human thread between us rather than talking about our differences will ultimately lead to a shared view – and a united Ireland! I want that, peacefully. Not because of Brexit. Not because I’m neither Catholic or Protestant; only because it makes sense. It’s time to change the language on this. It’s not about what we are, it’s about what we can become. It’s time to move forward together. Let’s create an Ireland that rises above our differences, that embraces the future and not the past. For our children. – Stephen Alkin, Co Wicklow

‘Younger voices might be of greater relevance in informing ongoing political developments’

Thank you for an interesting set of articles on the research undertaken. I would be interested in knowing more about the positions/opinions of younger people in NI and RoI in response to these questions. The political sphere appears to be captured by older voices, some of whom I would see as being anchored in the past. Given that this is a forward-looking “project”, the voices of younger demographics might be of greater relevance in informing ongoing political, economic and social developments. – Lewis Purser, Co Dublin

‘Lack of knowledge among people in South . . . was very telling’

I want to thank The Irish Times for this research. It’s great to have scientifically collected data on these issues rather than the competing claims of various lobby groups. I think the lack of knowledge among people in the South about the people they supposedly want to be “united” with was very telling. I have worked on cross-Border and cross-community projects for many years, and witnessed the waning support for this work from both Dublin and London. If the Shared Island unit is serious about its work, then cross-Border peace projects, not just day trips or conferences for the “great and good”, need to be given huge resources and treated as a priority. Thank you. – Fearghal O’Boyle, Co Donegal

‘Northern people will recognise reunification is the only means to save their economy’

I was born in Belgium to Irish parents and only came to Ireland for college a few years ago. Hence, I have had an “outside-looking-in” perspective on Ireland until recently. I went to school alongside many English people, whose opinion on Northern Ireland is generally either non-existent or negative. This is a first reason for which I think that partition won’t last forever. The UK economy is also faltering, lagging behind Russia even, according to the IMF. Northern Ireland is currently benefiting from being in a grey area between the EU and the UK and is therefore largely not yet suffering the consequences of Brexit. However, as the UK economy inevitably falls even further behind the rest of Europe and its ability to prop up the North’s economy reduces, the North economic appeal will be dragged down by the corpse of the British economy. Therefore, the people of Northern Ireland will recognise that reunification is the only means to save their economy. In a united Ireland, their voices will be heard far better and government policy can be adjusted much more to suit their needs. As for attitudes in the Republic, I believe that emotional attachment to the reunification concept will see a referendum pass. Northern Ireland’s connection to the rest of the UK is inorganic and artificial, Brexit laid these irreconcilable differences bare. – Conor Mac Donnchadha, Co Dublin

I agree with all the priorities in the order that they appear. Housing, health and the economy. I would also add a plan for a fully integrated public transport system as currently it is too difficult to travel around the island of Ireland without relying on a car. Buses are so scarce and unreliable. – Sue Burrell, Youghal, Co Cork

‘I take issue with the question of North/South interaction’

I think the direction of travel is clear when you look at demographics, look at the number of children under 18 and the greater percentage of Catholics to Protestants to crudely surmise it. Obviously, [being] born Catholic does not mean you’d vote for a united Ireland or vice versa but it does indicate where things will end up. What often was and is ignored by polls such as this is the sea change that is coming from a political point of view. Older Protestant voters dying off will ultimately mean less unionist voters in the next 10-20 years, again crudely put. I take issue with the question of North/South interaction. Poll the six counties of Munster and they easily could have little interaction with the other 26 if sold in the right way. Being from Cork, I have no interaction with people from Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan but I do with Tyrone. It’s a leading question in my opinion, not valid in the context of things. The sample size of 1,000 also seems small. Also, we do not understand the breakdown of those polled. Factors such as this need to be made public for full transparency. – Colin O’Brien

‘Research lacked question on sovereignty/joint authority for Northern Ireland’

In all your surveys and opinion polls why have you not asked the question how people would feel about joint sovereignty/joint authority for Northern Ireland? Also would the Protestant/unionist community be more open to a united Ireland where the push for a unitary state was being led by Fianna Fáil and/or Fine Gael rather than Sinn Féin? – Cormac Bartley, London

‘DUP is collapsing the Belfast Agreement’

A lifelong republican, I believe John Hume had it, was right. The solution to the division on the island was resolved by membership of the European Union and the disappearance of the Border. Brexit blew that up. The DUP opposed the Belfast Agreement and, by supporting a hard Brexit, they are collapsing that agreement. – Micheál ÓDrisceoil, Co Dublin

‘Whole premise is thought up in a university corridor or newspaper office’

Insulting and ridiculous to assume someone living in Lifford or Strabane would have much different views about anything. Or no more so than someone from Donegal vs Waterford; or Cumbria vs Cornwall. Whole premise is thought up in a university corridor or newspaper office. – Stephen H

‘I didn’t think this survey and how it is being interpreted is anyway useful’

I think if you asked the people of Connacht how many of them were in Carlow in the last five years or the people of Longford had they any relations in Waterford and had they been there in the last five years, you might find a similar response. I didn’t think this survey and how it is being interpreted is anyway useful or wholesome. It is just another divisive waffle to get attention and is truly unhelpful to the peace on the island regardless of your heritage. – John Hand, Co Dublin

‘Neither rigorous nor representative’

This is extrapolating a whole lot from very little. You could say same between Cork and Donegal. Neither rigorous nor representative. There is no doubt that there are two societies in the two jurisdictions and fewer interactions than within each separate entity but the assumptions here are mainly editorial bias. As a Northern Irish person living in the South, I have no illusions about the level and range of interconnectivity but this is false and unproven premise. – Claire Conlon, Co Roscommon

‘I’ve been to Belfast more times in my life than to numerous large towns in the Republic’

This survey does not ask the question: “Why have you not been to Northern Ireland in the past five years?” I have not been north of a line Swords – Clifden in the past five years yet have been to Belfast more times in my life than to numerous large towns in the Republic. – Philip Cotter, Co Waterford

‘Who did surveyors ask?’

Not our experience. Many trips up North. Same with friends. Students from South studying in North. Playing sport in North. Who did surveyors ask? – Alison Woodroofe, Co Kilkenny

‘People would find a united Ireland attractive if it were to happen in an evolutionary way’

Just a comment on the unbalanced nature of the revelations on North-South interactions, travel, relations etc: it would be perfectly normal to have such a discrepancy given the size and distance apart of both jurisdictions. Someone from Cork is far less likely to have made the trek to Belfast than someone making the short trip from Belfast to Dundalk. As the poll covers the whole country, this imbalance would be strong in the southern regions. I have no doubt that if the friends and relations survey was confined to equidistant parts, North and South, the results would be far closer. As it stands, the findings are presented in rather a finger-pointing way at the Southern population and the ramifications that might suggest as to Southern views on a united Ireland. I think I’m representative of a large cohort of people who would find a united Ireland attractive if it were to happen in an evolutionary way rather than a poll being foisted on people who don’t feel like pushing that agenda. – Gerald Nagle, Co Tipperary

‘The British should make a genuine effort to work with us to unite our country’

I think it is unlikely that Ireland will become a united single jurisdiction in the foreseeable future. I think that some form of federation will evolve over time if the identity of the unionists can be accommodated but I can’t see how this can be achieved given their hostility to the idea of a united Ireland… If the British had been prepared to accept the wishes expressed by the population of Ireland in the 1918 general election the counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry would have been included in an Irish Republic. The British were entirely responsible for our sad history and they should make a genuine effort to work with us to unite our country. Instead their attitude is that if Ireland becomes united they will have “lost Northern Ireland”. – James Hanley, Co Sligo

Envisioning a trade system to benefit the entire island

Let’s imagine that the highest priority is a trade system that confers maximum benefit to the great majority of both producers and consumers on the island of Ireland. An ideal arrangement from that point of view would be one where the entire island is covered by both EU and UK free-trade zones. Importers and exporters and consumers would benefit by such a for-Ireland-only arrangement. Granted, such a reasonable outcome would have to be disguised a bit. Perhaps there could be a show of conspicuous customs inspections for a handful of imports/exports (maybe whiskey and automobiles?) but basically almost every part of the entire island would gain, and London and Brussels would pretend that their team had won. – Conn Nugent, District of Columbia, US

‘Modern relationship between North-South residents has no realistic significance’

The political decision made in the 1920s, which defines, legally, the geography of the island of Ireland, is no longer significant. The modern relationship between residents on either side of the formal administrative Border on the island has no realistic significance. The limited number of people directly or indirectly affected by the reality of a border are not likely to change their attitudes. So, surveys, speculations and anonymous polls are not worth the effort of their creation. – Barry Mahon, Co Cork