Territorial disputes: Northern Ireland (Part 23) [Post 108]

What do people in Northern Ireland want?

Northern Ireland, in light of Brexit, presents many issues at stake. Arguably, Northern Ireland might still have the choice to have access to the European Union. The previous posts presented brief background information and a few views that included references to law and politics, the European Union, and many others.

Post 106: Territorial disputes: Northern Ireland (Part 21)

Post 107: Territorial disputes: Northern Ireland (Part 22)

Today’s post centers the attention on one of these parties: people. What do people in Northern Ireland want? Several documents give us an idea of what they want.

In the 2016 EU referendum, 58% of voters in Northern Ireland voted for Remain. This result, and the continuing uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on the Irish border, has led to calls for a border poll to allow the whole island of Ireland to remain in the EU.

Who is calling for a border poll to take place?

In 2018, Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, called for this to happen within five years. The nationalist Social and Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) support a referendum on Irish reunification after the Brexit negotiations.

The Irish Government has also taken the position that the time is not right for a border poll. In July 2017, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated that a vote on Irish reunification at this point would be defeated, and therefore “it would not achieve a united Ireland, but what it would do is give rise to further nationalist, further sectarianism and further polarisation.”

Irish reunification Published on The Institute for Government 

Link to the document

Link to the document 2

A very recent poll by LucidTalk Opinion Panel (now 10,482 members) consists of Northern Ireland residents (age 18+) and is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland. 

This is the report from LTs May NI Poll for YouGov and the BBC – Main topics covered: Identity, local influence over decisions, preference for future NI government, NI Border poll – should there be one, and what way would you vote if there was one, and decision making in Northern Ireland.

The complete poll (link) below. Some interesting results to note:

  • From all respondents, 56.7% consider themselves European while 46.7% consider themselves British. These figures are more polarized when we distinguish between protestant and catholic respondents:
  • For Protestant respondents, 30.9% consider themselves European while 82.9% British.
  • For Catholic respondents, 82.4% consider themselves European while 3.9% British.

From all respondents, 62.4% strongly disagree politicians in Westminster reflect their concerns.

In terms of what areas, the UK Government should make decisions about, there is a large difference with this question between Protestant and Catholic respondents. Protestant respondents score all factors much higher than Catholics.

Question 16 is central to this blog series, Northern Ireland in light of Brexit. “If there was a referendum on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, would you vote?”

The figures for ALL RESPONDENTS are:

  • 45% REMAIN (vote for NI to stay within the UK)
  • 42.1% LEAVE (vote for NI to join the RoI)
  • 12.7% UNDECIDED

There is a large difference of opinion between Protestants and Catholics regarding this issue.

  • Protestant respondents: 78.5% would vote REMAIN; 8.5% would vote LEAVE.
  • Catholic respondents: 7.2% would vote REMAIN; 84.3% would vote LEAVE.

May 2018 – Northern Ireland Tracker Poll

Link to the document


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).

Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


Northern Ireland and Brexit on the news.

Wednesday 27th May 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


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