Northern Ireland

'13% in NI want united Ireland in short to medium term', survey suggests

Support for a united Ireland in the short to medium term (27%) is much stronger amongst Northern Ireland Catholics than Protestants
Image caption Support for a united Ireland in the short to medium term (27%) is much stronger amongst Northern Ireland Catholics than Protestants

Only 13% of people in Northern Ireland want to see a united Ireland in the short to medium term, according to a new survey commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland and Irish state broadcaster RTÉ.

But that figure more than doubles to 30% when people are asked whether they would like a united Ireland in their lifetime.

In the Republic of Ireland, 36% of people told the survey they want a united Ireland in the short to medium term.

There is a significant increase when the aspiration is put in a long term context, with 66% backing a united Ireland within their lifetime.

The results were released on Wednesday night on BBC One Northern Ireland in a special edition of Nolan Live which linked up with RTÉ's Prime Time. The survey was jointly commissioned by the programmes.

Not surprisingly, support for a united Ireland in the short to medium term (27%) is much stronger amongst Northern Ireland Catholics than Protestants.

Only 3% of Protestants backed this option.

A majority of Northern Ireland Catholics (52%) back short-term options in which Northern Ireland remains in the UK, although more than half of those Catholics interviewed (57%) would still like to see a united Ireland within their lifetime.

A total of 30% of Protestants interviewed support a return to direct rule from Westminster - a figure that may reflect the difficulties facing power-sharing in early October when the survey was carried out.

Just under half of Protestants supported a continuation of devolution.

Image caption The results of the survey were released in a special edition of Nolan Live
Image caption Those who took part in the survey were asked whether taxation might influence their choices

The corresponding figures for Catholics were just 14% for direct rule and 38% for devolution.

Those who took part in the survey were asked whether taxation might influence their choices.

In the Republic of Ireland, the 66% backing a united Ireland in their lifetime increased to 73% if it meant paying less tax, but fell back dramatically to 31% if it meant more tax.

In Northern Ireland, the 30% supporting a united Ireland in the long term increased to 32% if it meant less tax, and decreased to just 11% if it meant more tax.

The B&A polling company carried out face-to-face interviews with more than 2,000 people at locations on both sides of the Irish border.

In Northern Ireland, 44% of those questioned identified themselves as British, 28% as Irish and 22% as Northern Irish.

The Northern Irish identity appears to be stronger outside Belfast - only 10% of those people interviewed in Belfast identified themselves as Northern Irish, compared to 25% of those outside Belfast.

On the basis of these results it seems unlikely the Northern Ireland secretary of state will be calling a border poll any time soon.

But it is a matter of UK government policy that there will be a referendum on European Union membership by 2017.

On this issue, 55% of those surveyed in Northern Ireland said they want to stay in the EU, much more than the 13% who want to leave.

However, there seems to be a high number of potential floating voters, with 32% saying they don't know.

South of the border, support for staying in the EU is stronger at 71% with 13% wanting to leave.

'Race and religion'

The cross-border survey also covered issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

It reports that 64% of people in the Republic of Ireland said abortion should sometimes be available, 22% said it should always be available, whilst 14% thought it should never be allowed.

Image caption Those surveyed were also asked if they would be comfortable with a family member marrying someone from a different religious background

In Northern Ireland, the corresponding figures were 56% sometimes, 23% always and 20% never.

The survey suggests 67% in the Republic of Ireland would be very or fairly comfortable if a family member married someone of the same sex. In Northern Ireland 64% of those surveyed felt the same way.

A similar question was asked about race and religion.

In Northern Ireland, 84% said they would be comfortable with a family member marrying someone from a different religious background.

In the Republic of Ireland, that figure was slightly lower at 79%.

In Northern Ireland, 86% said they would be comfortable with someone from their family marrying someone with a different skin colour.

South of the border the corresponding figure was again slightly lower at 83%.

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