Evidence backs SoS’s ‘bizarre’ claim about nationalist voters

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire

Sinn Fein dismissed as “bizarre” a claim by the Secretary of State that not all nationalist voters actually want a united Ireland – but actually, there is evidence to support his assertion.

Speaking at the launch of the Conservative Party’s Northern Ireland manifesto on Tuesday, Mr Brokenshire said that the conditions laid out in the Good Friday Agreement for calling a border poll on unification were “not remotely satisfied”.

Although in March’s Assembly election Stormont lost its unionist majority (though there is not a nationalist majority either) for the first time in the history of the Province, Mr Brokenshire said that there was no evidence that a majority of the population supports a united Ireland.

Mr Brokenshire said that “in terms of the way people vote, people may vote for one party but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to see a change to the institutions, that they want to see a change to the foundations that underpin all of that stability that has been achieved from the Belfast Agreement and thereafter.”

Sinn Fein’s Foyle candidate, Elisha McCallion, said that the “bizarre comments on Irish nationalist and republican voters beggar belief” and said that support for Irish unity was growing.

However, although Mr Brokenshire’s comments may seem counter-intuitive, they are supported by the findings of a major Ipsos MORI poll for the BBC four years ago.

That research – which tallies with other more generalised polls which puts the level of support for a united Ireland far beneath that of the combined vote of the nationalist parties – found that almost a quarter of Sinn Fein supporters (23%) told the pollsters they would vote against a united Ireland in a border poll.

And more than half of SDLP supporters (56%) said they would opt to stay in the UK if a poll was held tomorrow.