The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland faces an uncertain future with a growing number of Northern Irish citizens supporting reunification with the Republic.
The possibility of a referendum on the creation of a united Ireland is permitted by the Good Friday Agreement, with the UK government agreeing to a vote if public support indicates it could pass.
And Northern Irish citizens increasingly appear to support leaving the UK to form a united Ireland, according to a new poll released today which was commissioned by the BBC.
The Lucid Talk poll reveals 42.1 percent of those surveyed would vote to join the Republic in a unified Ireland, just three points – the margin of error – behind those who want to remain in the UK. The remainder were undecided.
And those aged under 45 showed an even higher level of support for a united Ireland. Those aged 18-45 were 49 percent in favour of a united Ireland, 38 percent in favour of remaining in the UK and 13 percent undecided.
The number of Northern Irish citizens in favour of a united Ireland appears far higher than a poll released last month, which saw the same proposal receive just 21 per cent support.
However May’s Ipsos Mori poll was conducted face-to-face while the Lucid Talk poll was conducted online and over the phone, with pollsters believing this could help better represent the “shy” united Ireland voters.
The BBC commissioned the most recent LucidTalk poll of 1,686 people, who were interviewed between May 4 and May 10.
Support was even higher in Belfast, where a majority of 50.2 per cent said they would support a united Ireland – an “incredible showing” given the city’s history, one expert said.
Northern Irish political commentator David McCann said the result in Belfast was particularly notable given it hosted the signing of the Ulster Covenant- a document signed by 500,000 people in 1912 in protest at the growing autonomy from Britain given to Ireland. Many signed using their own blood with the creation of the unionist militia the Ulster Volunteers following three months later.
Mr McCann of current affairs website Slugger O’Toole tweeted: “A majority of Belfast would support a UI in the city of the Ulster Covenant. Incredible showing.”
More than a quarter of respondents said they had recently changed their mind in favour of a united Ireland due to Brexit. Ironically the ultra-unionist DUP were the only major political party in Northern Ireland to campaign in favour of Brexit.
Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they “used to support NI staying in the UK but I would now support NI joining the ROI” in response to a question on whether Brexit had changed their mind.
This could be attributed to the ongoing chaos over the future of the Irish border and the fact Northern Irish citizens voted by a hefty majority of 56 percent to remain in the EU, despite the UK as a whole narrowly voting to leave.
It comes as Irish taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar travelled across the border for an historic visit to the Orange Order HQ – the first such visit by a ruling leader of the Republic.
Mr Varadkar said he was a “neighbour not an invader” as he spoke outside the Grand Lodge, which is the base for the pro-union and pro-Protestant order.
The taoiseach visited a memorial to Orange Order members killed during the Troubles and was welcomed by the Grand Master of Ireland Edward Stevenson.
Mr Stevenson said: “We acknowledge this is a significant moment as it is the first time a serving leader of the Republic of Ireland government has visited the headquarters of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.
“As a cross-border organisation, we welcome the Taoiseach’s direct engagement with our members based in the border counties of the Republic and in so doing, recognising the longstanding cultural identity of the Orange family in the south.
“It is also important to acknowledge the importance of the Taoiseach paying his respects to those members of our Institution, many of whom served in the security forces, who were murdered by terrorists.
“Such a gesture should not be underestimated and will, I believe, be deeply appreciated by many relatives of the deceased, and the Orange membership as a whole.”