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

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.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 1:34 pm
Peter Shirlow

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.

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.

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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.

"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."

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."