Fewer NI people feel British than other UK regions - survey

By Mark Devenport
BBC News NI Political Editor

  • Published
Image caption,
Demographics are shifting in Northern Ireland

Fewer people in Northern Ireland think of themselves as British than in any other UK region, according to a survey conducted for the BBC.

82% of people in England feel strongly British, compared to 79% in Wales and 59% in Scotland.

Only 47% of people in Northern Ireland identified themselves as strongly British.

That is less than the number of people who described themselves as Irish, Northern Irish or European.

In the BBC survey, 29% of those with a Protestant background defined themselves as Irish, but only 4% of those with a Catholic background identified as British.

More than eight out of ten Protestants described themselves as British or Northern Irish. More than nine out of ten Catholics said they were Irish and more than eight out of ten Catholics described themselves as European.

The survey, conducted by the Belfast polling firm LucidTalk, suggests the prospect of Brexit may be having a significant impact on how some people in Northern Ireland regard their future.

More than a quarter (28%) told us the UK's decision to leave the EU has made them more likely to vote for a united Ireland.

The survey suggested a future border poll could be a close fought campaign, and those who do not know or are unsure of how they might vote would have the potential to determine the outcome.

Some 45% of those surveyed said they would vote for Northern Ireland to stay in the UK, whilst 42% supported Northern Ireland leaving the UK and joining a united Ireland.

Just under 13% indicated they were undecided or would not vote.

The result represents a much narrower lead for the pro-UK camp than another survey carried out for Belfast's Queen's University in May, which suggested 50% backed the UK, whilst only 21% favoured a united Ireland.

The Queen's poll was conducted face-to-face by Ipsos Mori, whilst the BBC survey was carried out online and over the telephone by LucidTalk. LucidTalk's Bill White believes the online survey method may catch more "shy" united Ireland supporters than face-to-face interviews.

In the Lucid talk survey, support for a united Ireland is stronger amongst younger voters. Amongst those surveyed under the age of 45, 49% backed a united Ireland and 38% preferred staying in the UK. The remaining 13% were undecided.

Seventeen months after the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, more than half of those surveyed would still prefer a power sharing executive at Stormont.

Just over a quarter favour some form of joint authority between London and Dublin, whilst only 15% prefer direct rule by ministers based at Westminster.

More than eight out of ten people in Northern Ireland do not believe Westminster politicians reflect their concerns.

Although Northern Ireland is facing intractable political problems, the survey finds that people remain optimistic.

Almost 70% told us they think Northern Ireland's best years are still in the future. That is far more optimistic than anywhere else in the UK.

The polling firm LucidTalk was in contact with a representative sample of 1,336 people across Northern Ireland either online or by telephone.