THOSE who have spent 40 years campaigning for a united Ireland received a severe body blow with a BBC poll showing two-thirds support for the Union.
Not only has Sinn Fein’s campaign failed to convince Protestants that a united Ireland is a good idea but a majority of Roman Catholics said they wanted to stay in the United Kingdom. Indeed, a majority in every county of the Province.
Whilst polls of this nature traditionally underestimate unionism and particularly support for the DUP, the BBC report is very uncomfortable reading for nationalists – 79 per cent saying they want to stay in the United Kingdom with 23 per cent of Sinn Fein supporters expressing the same view.
We should not be dismissive of the support within the Catholic community for the Union. Peter Robinson was the man who identified this segment of the electorate well in advance of any poll.
Indeed, it was Peter who said the DUP should not write off 40 per cent of the electorate. I view the Catholic support as a vindication of the strategic direction unionism has taken in recent years.
Such a shot in the arm for unionism would have been unimaginable a mere decade ago. Those who criticised Peter and compared Catholic unionists to unicorns are less vocal today.
Devolution and a relatively settled Northern Ireland has ensured that those who once were uncomfortable in the United Kingdom now feel at home.
Peter Robinson told our conference a few months ago that we needed to be persuaders for the Union. This poll should not make us complacent. We must keep extolling the benefits of the Union. We need to keep persuading.
Sinn Fein’s united Ireland campaign lies in tatters. Now they have resorted to stepping up the attack on our cultural identity – aided by the SDLP and the Alliance Party.
Just as we have seen off their united Ireland campaign this cultural campaign can be seen off too, but only through the ballot box.
The Union Flag being removed from City Hall must be a wake-up call to those who value and cherish our Britishness and who have not used their vote in recent elections.
Whilst they, like many Catholics, support the Union this has not been expressed at the ballot box.
Whilst unionism has a strong leadership in Northern Ireland we must have a vision to secure the proper level of representation in councils, the Assembly, Westminster and Europe.
We can advance our long-term goal through the democratic process – 26 votes out of 51 in Belfast City Hall, as opposed to the 21 unionism currently has, could have stopped the damage caused by the Alliance Party voting with Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
With this week’s poll showing the strength of our message, unionists must work together to ensure that the next generation enjoys an even better Northern Ireland than the one this generation inherited.