A recent poll on Irish unity suggests that it is still “too early” for a referendum, the Head of Irish Studies at UCD has said.
The survey was carried out by Amarách Research for the European Movement Ireland and found strong support for EU membership on both sides of the border.
In the Republic, 88% backed membership of the bloc and in the North the figure was 79% - up from the 56% who voted to Remain in 2016.
Dr Darragh Gannon said EU membership was now “certainly a factor” driving support for Irish unity.
“The 45% of those polled in Northern Ireland believing that there will be a United Ireland within the EU in 10 years is probably the takeaway for a lot of people north of the border,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
“But I think the topline takeaway at a macro level is that it is clear that the east-west strand of the Northern Ireland peace process now extends beyond Dublin and London to include Brussels as well.”
Dr Gannon cautioned that polling on a straight ‘Yes/No’ question still suggests there is no majority for Irish unity at present.
“As we know, polls are often an expression of the political moment and this poll was taken between 2nd and 5th June of this year - mere weeks after Sinn Féin swept the local elections in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“Just for further context, in the four major polls taken between April 2022 and April 2023, support for Irish unity in Northern Ireland ranged from 27% to 41%.
“So, I think in some respects Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s suggestion that it’s too early for a border poll is kind of brought out by these figures.”
He said it was “quite clear” a border poll will be a priority if Sinn Féin get into Government but the party has recently taken a “more measured approach” to the issue.
“Even Mary Lou McDonald is citing Brexit as a contextual factor in not pushing for a rush to the polls,” he said.
“I think the suggestion, for example, for a Citizens’ Assembly to prepare the way for those kinds of debates is something that all parties can ultimately get behind.”
Under the Good Friday Agreement, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will call a border poll, “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland”.
In 2021, Britain’s then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson predicted there would not be a border poll for a “very, very long time”.
His successor, Rishi Sunak, has not commented publicly on the issue.
Main image: A sign at edge of road near the Irish border. Picture by: Alamy.com