Cross-Border connections are uneven: northerners are much more connected to the South than southerners are to the North. Only 29 per cent of citizens in the Republic have taken a day trip to the North either several times or lots of times in the last five years, in contrast to the comparable figure of 65 per cent among the Northern Ireland public who have visited the South.
Regarding overnight trips, 55 per cent of northerners have stayed over in the South more than once, but only 21 per cent of southerners have stayed over in the North multiple times.
Half of southerners have taken no day trips at all compared with just a quarter of northerners. Three-fifths of southerners have not overnighted compared with one-third of northerners.
Asymmetry is also evident regarding cross-Border friends and relations. Two-thirds of southerners have no friends in the North. By comparison, only half of northerners have no friends in the South. Four in five southerners have no relations in the North compared with two in three northerners who have no relations in the South.
Unsurprisingly, there are big differences between Catholics and Protestants in the North. Catholics are more likely to visit the South several or lots of times (78 per cent) than are Protestants (52 per cent). They are also more likely to stay over frequently (71 per cent compared with 40 per cent). Just one-third of Catholics have no friends in the South, compared with two-thirds of Protestants. While two out of every five Northern Catholics have no relations in the South, nine in 10 Northern Protestants have no such relations.
When we combine all answers to our questions, it emerges that just 8 per cent of Northern Catholics have no cross-Border connections, i.e. they have not visited or stayed overnight in the South and have no friends or family in the South. Having no cross-Border connections is more prevalent among Northern Protestants at 28 per cent. But this figure is much lower than the overall figure for the South – 41 per cent.
Geography matters, however. We examined whether North-South connections decreased with distance from the Border. Strikingly, 58 per cent of respondents in Munster have no cross-Border connections, a much greater proportion than Connaught/Ulster (27 per cent).
A telling example of southerners’ reluctance to engage with the North was highlighted by a participant in our focus groups (made up of those who are undecided over Irish unity). She expressed frustration at her work colleagues’ reluctance to travel to Belfast on a shopping day trip that she had organised:
“I had it all sown up, I really did, and then I went into work and I said it to them and the amount of them that said no, they weren’t going. And they were saying … we are changing the money and … it would be so much easier if it was all Euro … we could have organised to go to a Christmas market in France quicker than get around them, which is silly because it’s only up the road.”
We may wonder whether exchange transactions were the real reason for preferring France to the North.
To examine how cross-Border connections relate to attitudes to Irish unity, we generated a single nuanced measure that combines the full range of responses to our four questions (visits, overnights, friends and relations) and, according to this measure, divided respondents into three approximately equal groups: those with weak, moderate and strong cross-Border connections.
In the Republic, 15 per cent of those with weak cross-Border connections support Northern Ireland staying in the UK while 64 per cent support Irish unity: a net unity score of 49. This net score is 10 points lower than the net unity score of those with strong cross-Border connections.
In contrast, for Northern Catholics the impact of cross-Border connections on support for unity is much greater: those with strong connections to the South are much more likely to support unity (+55 net score) than those with weak connections (+18).
The pattern for Protestants is much less strong than it is for Catholics, but opposition to unity decreases as cross-Border connections increase: -81 net score for the weakly connected by comparison with a -63 net score for the strongly connected.
One clear lesson is that increasing cross-Border connectivity is vital for those who favour Irish reunification: here the agendas of the Shared Ireland Unit and Ireland’s Future converge.
Another arises from the fact there are a lot of supporters of unity in the South who have no connection with the North. Challenges may arise from unification with people with whom they have little contact. Understanding of the politics, public services, and society of the “other”’ jurisdiction is weaker among such pro-unity southerners compared with the much more strongly connected pro-unity Northern Catholics.
Lastly, low cross-Border engagement among many southerners may explain why some northerners believe they are “othered” in the Republic. One undecided Northern female participant questioned whether cultural integration in a united Ireland would be easy:
“My brother has been living in north Dublin for maybe two decades now and he still gets the ‘Nordie’ label down there.”
- Read all our pieces in the series to date here North and South - The Irish Times