Northern nationalism’s biggest barrier to achieving unification is other Irish people…

Ben M is a slugger reader from Dublin

Mary Lou McDonald recently said she thought a United Ireland was “within touching distance”. The remark received little positive response, even in the south, where reactions ranged from pointing out that it was unhelpful to say it on the day Stormont returned or that it was unrealistic. The latest LucidTalk polling for the Belfast Telegraph on the topic might give her some succour. However, it might also provide a counter-intuitive message. That at a 10-year time frame, if the border poll argument is won within NI, then the barrier to unification isn’t Unionism or the British government, but might be persuading the ROI to commit to starting a process that makes it happen.

Asked how they would vote if a border poll was held immediately, support for staying in the UK didn’t top 50% (it was 49%). UI support got 39% support, with Don’t Knows at 11%. An even more interesting response was when people were asked if they aspire to a UI at some point in the future (given a point over 10 years in the future). 52% of people said yes to that, with 44% saying they would never support leaving the UK.

This means a border poll could pass at 56% yes to 44% no. All other things being equal, this is a number I assume will increase slightly year after year to favour UI support with demographic changes, and might be nearer 58% yes to 42% no in the 2030s.

This brings me back to Mary Lou McDonald’s “touching distance” comments. You could well argue that 10 years out is hardly touching distance, but I think that misses a bigger point. Northern Nationalism’s biggest hurdle to a United Ireland is other Irish people. That’s worth repeating. The biggest hurdle to progressing a United Ireland isn’t Unionists or the British government. It’s all there in the data. 55%+ of Northern Ireland people are ready and waiting to vote yes in a future border poll.

Contrary to them being cast as the bogeyman in this debate, I’m quite sure a future British government would be relieved and happy to wave goodbye to an NI that voted 55/45 to leave the UK. It’s hard to see what Unionists could do to stop those numbers. Lucky for Unionists both the southern political elite, and the wider electorate seem so indifferent and disinterested in making unification happen. Although politicians regularly talk about achieving it in their lifetimes, and polls show the ROI electorate would vote yes in a border poll too – no one seems interested in going beyond that.

Northern Nationalism is used to seeing UI as a goal that requires them to persuade Unionists and the British government first. What if data like this is saying this is the wrong way of looking at things. That at a 10-year-plus time span, they’ve already won over 50% support in NI, and the British government will be relieved to leave. Instead, the barrier and the bottleneck is the ROI. If the ROI doesn’t start a unification process in the south, then can it ever happen?

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