The hard-heads, it seems, got it wrong. You know, those no-nonsense people who urge everyone to abandon silly talk about flags and identity and where power should reside, and concentrate on earning a living and feeding your children. Eminently sensible people. Well, if the Belfast Telegraph is to be believed, the hard-heads have mainly bone between their ears.
Because a recent BT poll tells us that some 88% of people in the north of Ireland consider nationality an important or very important matter. It also revealed that the population of the six counties is split on whether the north will still be in existence in eleven years’ time – 41% think it will be, 41% think it won’t. However, the poll also reported one in every four Catholics saying they’d prefer the link with Britain were maintained.
So was John Taylor (aka Lord Kilclooney) right when he said that around 30% of Catholics are in fact unionist? If you think the BT poll is an accurate reflection of the population at large, yes. However we know that people often tell pollsters what they want to hear. Sinn Fein, for example, consistently is rated lower than its actual performance in elections.
So which is it? Are the signs that a united Ireland is on its way or that the union with Britain is being cemented in place? The truth is, nobody knows. There is, though, a way to find out.
The Good Friday Agreement allows a referendum on the constitutional question every seven years. So far, none has been conducted. The sooner one is organised and conducted, the better, in my view. If returns indicate a wish for a united Ireland, then all bets are off and we’re in a totally different political landscape. If returns indicate only minority support for a united Ireland, it would be helpful if we could find out why people voted for and why against. But it really has come time for everyone in the north to face up to the facts in this area. John Taylor pronouncements or Belfast Telegraph polls are interesting and even fun, but we all need some hard figures and clear motivations to work with.