Queen's Policy Engagement

Is Brexit Propelling Northern Ireland towards Irish Unity?

This article by Dr Katy Hayward is part of an ongoing blog series ‘Brexit Countdown’ by the Political Studies Association (PSA) and Political Studies Association of Ireland (PSAI).

Is Brexit Propelling Northern Ireland towards Irish Unity?

One of the unwitting effects of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement of 1998 is that it potentially put enormous power in the hands of pollsters in Northern Ireland. If there are sure signs of a majority in favour of Irish unity, the British government is required to bring forward legislation to hold a referendum on the matter.

A key means of assessing changing views in Northern Ireland is through attitudinal surveys, the leading example being the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (NILT). Every year, NILT poses the question: What do you think the long-term policy Northern Ireland should be? In the 20 years since the 1998 Agreement, the firm preference of the majority of respondents has been ‘devolved government within the UK’, whilst the proportion of those wanting Irish unity has remained on average around 21% (albeit with wide fluctuations).

There has always been differences between the preferences of Catholic and Protestant respondents on this question, but not in quite such a clear-cut way as typically depicted. Although it is rare for Protestant respondents to want Irish unity, it is common for Catholic respondents to see Northern Ireland’s long-term future as being within the UK. This shared preference for devolution is, however, conditional on the terms established by the 1998 Agreement.

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Article originally appeared on The Political Studies Association blog.


The featured image has been used courtesy of Getty Images and a Creative Commons license. 

Dr Katy Hayward
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Dr Katy Hayward is a Reader in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's University Belfast. Katy is also a Senior Fellow with UK in a Changing Europe. She has particular expertise on cross-border cooperation and management, focusing on the case study of Ireland/Northern Ireland and the impact of EU membership. For more information and links to some of her recent publications, please see her Queen's homepage: https://go.qub.ac.uk/hayward

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