North and South differ on benefits of unity

A quarter of Southerners think Irish unification would benefit the North more than the South, while only one in 10 think the South would benefit more than the North

NI POLL Call-out

The ARINS/Irish Times survey cannot be used to predict the economic consequences of Irish unification, but it can help us understand current popular perceptions across the island.

We asked our respondents in the event of Irish unification, whether they think that the economic consequences would affect everyone equally and whether they thought otherwise, depending on whether they live in the North or South, or on the income group in which they place themselves or their families.

One quarter of people in the South think that Irish unification would benefit the North more than the South. Only one in 10 Southerners think that the South would benefit more than the North.

Conversely, Northerners are more inclined to believe that any economic gains from unification would benefit people south of the border more than people in the North. One in five (21 per cent) people in Northern Ireland believe the South would benefit more than the North and only one in 10 (some 11 per cent) believe the reverse.


This trend is primarily driven by Northern Protestants. Overwhelmingly, they think that the South would benefit more than the North, by a ratio of seven to one. Northern Catholics, by contrast, are just as likely to say the North would do better as they are to say the South would do better.

Tuesday poll

The most popular response among Northern Catholics, over two fifths, is to agree that both North and South would benefit equally from Irish unification – roughly similar to the proportion in the South who think the same (36 per cent). This response is particularly popular among Sinn Féin voters in the North (55 per cent) and in the South (49 per cent).

People in the South and Northern Catholics have similar proportions who think that both North and South would lose out equally (between 10 and 14 per cent).

The proportion among Northern Protestants who fear mutual ruin is much higher, at 36 per cent – over three times greater than the proportion saying the North and South would equally benefit (11 per cent). That view attracts particularly high agreement from Traditional Unionist Voice voters (59 per cent) and Democratic Unionist Party voters (45 per cent).

The “others” group in Northern Ireland are fairly evenly split across the different response options. They are particularly likely to say that they “don’t know” (26 per cent).

Clearly advocates of Irish unification, to win any future referendums, will need to work hard on Northern perceptions, and their task will be hardest among Northern Protestants. But they must also transform perceptions among the “others” and Northern Catholics.

Income groups

To dig a little deeper, we asked respondents their perceptions of how people in different financial positions would be affected by unification

Northern Protestants think that all income groups, North and South, will, on balance, do badly out of unity, and particularly Northerners in mid- and low-income groups. They are somewhat less negative about how high-income Northerners would be affected.

Tuesday poll

Northern Catholics also differentiate by income group. Most tend to think, though not by a majority, that the high-income groups, both North and South, will on balance do well from Irish unification. Overall, they are neutral overall on how the mid- and low-income groups, North and South, will fare.

In the South, more people think that mid- and low-income Southerners will be worse off than better off, with the balance of opinion leaning particularly negatively when it comes to people in middle-income households. In contrast, people in the South are evenly split about how high-income Southerners will fare: one in five think they would benefit economically from Irish unity and a further one in five think they would lose out.

Overall, Southerners, Northern Catholics and Northern Protestants think that the high-income people on their side of the border will do better (or less badly) than the mid- and low-income people on their side of the border.

Recall what is being reported here are perceptions of how distinct groups will perform. For those who advocate Irish unification it may seem to be a strategic advantage that at least they may have the rich (the high-income groups, North and South) on their side, or neutralised, in the future battle of perceptions. That, however, would be a premature judgment because when respondents are asked to describe in which income group they are, very few in our surveys think they are in a high-income household – almost zero in the North, and just one in 20 (6 per cent) in the South.

Overall, there is a tendency for the public to think that others (on the other side of the border, and in high income groups) will do well economically or bear the least costs from Irish unification. Whether this result reflects the folk wisdom that whatever happens the rich do well remains to be seen.

Advocates of Irish unification will take heart from the fact that the perceived mutual ruin of the North and South (”both would lose out equally”) is well below majority levels, and that a high proportion of “don’t knows” are available to be persuaded among all categories of respondents.