Support for unification has increased dramatically in Northern Ireland over the past 8 years [morphed to Brexit revisited]

Eight years ago, public opinion in Northern Ireland was strongly against unification. 65 percent supported remaining part of the UK and only 17 percent favored joining the rest of Ireland.

But now, it’s drawn so near as to almost be a tie. Now only 47 percent support remaining in the UK while 42 percent support joining the rest of Ireland.

Are we going to see this united Ireland thing happen in the upcoming decade or not?

This is just my humble opinion. but I think in the long term this is a real possibility. I believe the the UK Government did not think through the consequences of Brexit as it related to Northern Irish relations with the Republic of Ireland.


hell Scotland’s ready to leave as soon as it gets a vote and since northern Ireland seems to have gotten over the religious problems (more or less) I’m not surprised that sometime in the next decade they vote on unification

If it does, I hope it happens in 2024.

In the case of Scotland’s status, there is broad-based agreement to respect the will of the majority.

Nothing of the sort exists in Northern Ireland. The whole conflict is based on the truculence of minorities.

Eight years ago, when only 17 percent of those in Northern Ireland favored Irish unification, did that minority cease to matter? It didn’t, because until recently they’ve been willing to fight and die for their cause.

The same is the case with those who want to remain part of the UK.

No doubt, the increase in support for Irish unification is remarkable. I still think that actual unification remains well out of reach.

To put that in more concrete terms - just so I understand you right:

Since the Good Friday Agreement says the SecState will need to call a referendum when/if the pro-unification side becomes the majority in Northern Ireland, are you saying that either

  1. There won’t be any such referendum,


  1. There will be such a referendum, but if the pro-unification vote wins, we’ll see a “Troubles 2.0,” but this time from the Brit side rather than the Irish side, waging violence to demand that N. Ireland stay British?

I don’t know whether there will be a referendum, but I’m saying something like what you’ve said in 2). The potential for a “Troubles 2.0” will be on the minds of all involved parties as they consider how to proceed.

I suspect that once the full implications of Brexit become apparent, support for unification (including rejoining the EC) will grow. Whether this leads to renewed violence is not clear.

" Loyalism, but in a house share in Cork"

It’s worth noting that it has effectively been a generation since the Troubles ended - the Omagh bombing was in 1998, over 22 years ago. People may have long memories in NI but they’ve also had enough time to get used to a reasonably peaceful existence. The longer the gap, the more inertia will work against a return to widespread violence (although there will always be violent hotheads), and being in the EU adds an incentive to many to seriously consider unification.

So there may be violence, but a less polarized population than previously.

This. And yeah, there’s going to be some violence.

I have been thinking for some time now that it’s a pretty close footrace as to who gets the hell out of the UK first, NI or Scotland. And, depending on just how bad Brexit turns out to be, I wouldn’t bet against Wales getting out as well.


If EU membership is the draw, then NI has the easiest path as it merely has to unify with an EU country it’s already heavily linked to culturally and infrastructure-wise, something a significant percentage of the population are already amenable to. Scotland and Wales would have a much harder time of it as they’d have to sort out fiscal and economic issues (including currency) and so forth, plus I’m not sure Wales has the economy to go it alone.

Yeah, it would be a tougher job for Wales, I agree.

NI may have the easier path but Scotland has a ton of momentum. I really wouldn’t know which way to bet on that one.


Northern Ireland is divided. It seriously matters whether you are from the Catholic community or the Protestant community. Those divisions are very embedded in the culture in a way that simply does not exist in the rest of the UK (except perhaps in Glasgow) and it is reflected in the politics that still based on sectarian division. There a generations alive today who know full well how bad that can get. They fear the return of the gun men and the state of low level civil war that persisted for decades.

While the culture south of the border has changed a lot and become much more progressive from the deeply conservative state it once was. While I am sure the benefits it has accrued from EU membership and an economic policy that has attracted Silicon valley giants who want a low tax base in the EU, a lot of that was undermined when the economy tanked dramatically in 2008. The speculative ‘ghost’ property estates from that time still exist and the housing crisis blights the prospects of the young.

It is not as if it a rich country and the uniting with the South would solve economic problems in the North. Probably, the reverse would be true. It would re-open old wounds.

If it was the case that Northern Ireland was integrated and Catholic and Protestants went to the same schools and inter-married, then maybe I would be more optimistic. 93% of schools in Northern Ireland are segregated by religion. Progress on that is quite glacial. If it had steadily become more balanced over the years since the Good Friday Agreement, I would be more optimistic that the differences between the North and the South were diminishing.

The whole Brexit saga and its affect on the delicate unity of the United Kingdom has yet to play out.

A United Ireland is not an instant answer to all these problems. It would be a brave politician in the South who thinks that incorporating the North with its violent political history is going to be a story that ends well. The UK has subsidised Northern Ireland for decades, it is a burden that the South may not be able to afford and it certainly does not want to embrace a powerful political constituency in the North that would unbalance the politics of the South. It is all very well for Republican politicians to posture their idealistic credentials, but they know that the North will bring with it a whole host of troubles.

It is kind of the same with Scotland and the Scottish Nationalist message. An independent Scotland after 400 years following the Nordic model? How successful would that be? That one was debated to death during the Independence Referendum.

There is no getting away from the fact that these nations and Wales live next to the much more populous England that dominates the economy or the British Isles. That is not going to change.

At the moment there is a balance of power in Northern Ireland. The Republicans have connections in the South that is supported by the US and the EU. The Unionist parties have connections with the UK and especially the Conservative Party. That latter connection has been seriously undermined by Brexit and the ‘where to draw the border’ question has been a Boris Johnson fudge which has left many Unionists deeply unhappy.

I expect it will fester until the Covid crisis is dealt with. Covid is the big issue at the moment and it is a convenient carpet under which to sweep a lot of other issues like Brexit. I don’t doubt it will come back to haunt the UK government at some point. Constitutional issues never really go away but flare up into a crisis from time to time.

The Irish Question is a constitutional problem that has dogged UK politics for hundreds of years. There are no simple solutions.

Something I’ve been curious about: what happened with the Protestants in the th area that became the Republic of Ireland after independence? Did they move to the UK or did they stay put, and if the latter, how were they treated by the Catholic majority?

This is a personal anecdote but I do believe that it is relevant.

I work(ed) in Concert production and worked with a band from Belfast. Young twentysomethings and very good. They were doing their first tour of North America. I wish I could remember their name but alas it escapes me.

After the show I sat down and talked with them. They were quite surprised that I knew about the troubles and so we talked in some depth over a few beers.

Much to surprise They told me that their generation was done with the violence and said that anyone on any sect that they saw doing a dirty deed they would immediately turn over to the proper authorities. Maybe some hope on the horizon?


Well, if they grew up on one of the rough housing projects where the divisions are felt most acutely, then that would be something. But if they were from a cosy middle class background well away from the murals and peacewalls, then it does not say much.

The conflict in Northern Ireland affected some sections of society much more than others. Middle class suburban life could be sweet. Low house prices, good education and a job market infused by subsidy and investment from the rest of the UK. They seldom talk about that and it never featured much in the news headlines.

At the moment the Irish Republicans will be quite content to sit it out and watch Boris Johnson’s UK ‘Conservative and Unionist’ Party deal with Unionists in Northern Ireland who are very angry his Brexit deal appears to have drawn a border between Northern Ireland and the UK across the Irish Sea.

For the Republicans it is easier to sit and wait, there is nothing to be gained by forcing the United Ireland issue and much to lose. They have had a lot of political success in the Republic of Ireland in recent years. The framework of cross border institutions provided for by the Good Friday Agreement works to make the border less of an issue. There is a lot of economic as well as institutional integration already.

The Brexit deal requires a border between the UK and the EU but the prospect of anything resembling border posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is highly contentious. That border was a major focus of conflict and everyone knows it.

Boris tried to solve the UK/EU border issue with an ambiguous fudge and this is becoming more and more apparent as objections are raised by the Unionists over checks on the passage of goods between the UK and Northern Ireland. He can put off a crisis by promising money, effectively paying them off. The Unionists did very well out Theresa May. They were given a lot of money to spend to buy their support.

However, there is pressure from the EU to honour the agreement and create customs posts at the ports in Northern Ireland. I am not sure whether any sort of subsidy is going to make that acceptable. Though I am sure they will warm to the idea of a very expensive bridge or tunnel between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Whatever the solution to these constitutional problems, one thing is for sure. It could get very expensive and someone has to pick up the bill.

The Republic of Ireland can do a lot by continuing its progressive constitutional reforms. These do not go unnoticed north of the border where the political process is not working well as well as it might and attitudes seem stuck in the past.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland may seem a long time ago, but really they are not. The Millenial generation may be distant from it, but there are plenty for whom it is still a bad memory.

The Protestant population of (what became) the Republic fell signficantly in the years immediately after 1922. It’s hard to get an exact handle on this, since the preceding census was in 1911 and the next in 1926, and the period in between included not just the War of Indepenence but the Great War, which was hugely socially, economically and politically disruptive.

Still, there’s no doubt that the Protestant population fell significantly. There’s a number of factors at work here:

  • The British had maintained a large garrison in Ireland, and that had an attendant population. That went, of course.

  • Civil servants (who were disproportionately Protestant, especially at senior levels) were offered the option of taking to a UK posting or transferring to the Civil Service of the Free State. Many took the former option.

  • An accelerated programme of land purchase involved the new government buying out large landed estates and distributing ownership to the farmers who had previously farmed them as tenants. A lot of the large landowner class took the money and left, since they no longer had property holdings or a social position to keep them in Ireland. And range of middle-class and skilled working class people who depended on the economy of the “big house” society found their own position evaporating.

  • Families with a tradition of (UK) government or colonial service, or a tradition of military service, had no particular reason to stay in Ireland and for career reasons might feel the UK was a more attractive option.

  • Prior to 1922 Protestants as a group had enjoyed a generally privileged social, economic and political position. Even those who didn’t benefit directly from this themselves felt part of a community which did, and that gave them social capital. All this was lost after 1922.

Ireland had always had a high propensity for emigration before independence, and continued to after independnece. And, both before and after independnece, Protestants had a higher propensity to emigrate than Catholics, but this discrepancy increased.

As to how they were treated, they lost a privileged status, which is always painful. And, presumably, those who felt an affinity with the UK may have felt their loyalties were divided and - in some cases - that they need to make a choice.

They didn’t suffer any legal discrimination and their social institutions were left untouched. Protestant schools, etc, continued to be funded on the same basis as Catholic schools, or even slightly more generously. While the land purchase scheme primarily bought the lands of Protestants, that wasn’t because it was targetted at Protestants; it was because large landowners were overwhelmingly Protestant. And it was a continuation of a programme begun under the British administration; I don’t think anybody at the time saw it as religious discrimination, or as motivated by religious discrimination.

Catholic social thinking did influence public policy and legislation. Most notably, prior to independence divorce had been achieved by act of parliament (there were no courts with jurisdiction to grant divorces) and after independence the new Irish legislature did not grant any further divorces. This was perhaps of more symbolic than practical significance; divorce was strongly socially deprecated by both Catholics and Protestants, and the fact that it required a private Act of Parliament meant that it was only avialable to the extremely wealthy anyway, so actual divorces were vanishingly rare. But the symbolism was significant; Protestants would have to live under laws tailored to Catholic thinking on social issues. And this probably helped to create a climate in which Protestants felt not entirely at home in the new state.

much of anything at all.

I am woefully undereducated on this subject. What are the chances that yoots in both Irelands continue on the secularization trendlines of other western European countries? Would that not ameliorate tensions across the board?