Study finds majority of unionists more concerned about COVID, health and economy than Protocol

Peter ShirlowPeter Shirlow
Peter Shirlow
A new study on attitudes to the Protocol has found a majority of people in the north, including a majority of unionists, are more concerned about the COVID-19 recovery, health and the economy than about constitutional issues.

The University of Liverpool-commissioned survey, led by Professor Peter Shirlow, Director and Chair of the Institute of Irish Studies, has found that the Protocol is not a top priority for most people across the north.

The Social Market Research (SMR) conducted the survey in mid to late October 2021 of more than a thousand people across every council area.

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The study found little support for the invocation of Article 16 and high levels of inter-community consensus around the need for practical resolution and more frictionless goods movement.

It found that regarding the EU’s proposal on pharmaceuticals a mere 5.6% opposed. 71.9% of unionists, 80.7% of nationalists and 66.5% of neither agreed that this was a positive development; and 2% disagreed with the UK government’s proposal regarding the movement of goods with agreement sitting at 84.5% among unionists, 72.1% of nationalists and 65.3% neither.

The survey found inter-community majorities regarding the stability of the Assembly.

"Regarding the Northern Ireland Assembly should decide by simple majority (Articles 5-10 of the Protocol) whether the Protocol should remain 52.6% of unionists, 67.7% of nationalists and 52.7% of neither agreed.

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"Regarding whether the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive should remain in place until the election in May 2022, 65% of respondents agreed compared to 9.6% who disagreed. A minority of DUP (12.8%) and UUP (6.7%) voters disagreed," the report concluded.

Equally there was a 54.9% acceptance of the EU’s proposal on food, plant and animal health goods movement and 56.6% of overall support for the package of mitigations announced by the EU in October 2021.

The authors conclude: "The survey did not observe – among those who are Unionist - a majority favouring the EU’s proposal on food etc. but 45.9% are prepared to accept compared to 36.3% who stated the proposal was unacceptable.

"Regarding the overall package of mitigations announced by the EU in October – among those who wish to remain in the UK – 39.0% agreed to accept and move on compared to 32.0% who stated reject and renegotiate."

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The data does not suggest any support for invocation of Article 16 due to societal difficulties.

Professor Peter Shirlow Director of the Institute of Irish Studies noted: "We find evidence of inter-community consensus, with consent achievable when negotiations/discussions explore - and more importantly - offer alternative practical resolutions.

"It is evident that respondents seek proportionality in North-South and East-West trade relationships. There is no evidence here of mass rejection, even among unionists, of the mitigations/easements advanced by the EU. Similarly, there is no nationalist/republican rejection of key UK government proposals. This is not what is assumed within media and political commentary.

"The inter-community consensus located within this report is a point of renewal for ongoing mitigations, and confirmation that resolution will further develop that societal consensus and social cohesion. Complex issues cannot be reduced to sound bites, Tweets and headlines."

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