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Republic wary but open to changes that will pave the way to Irish unity

A majority in the South will at least consider changes to the Constitution to accommodate unification but are divided on changes to the anthem and flag

The Republic is open to a discussion about, but wary of, changes to its Constitution, flag and anthem in the event of votes in favour of a united Ireland.

Majority consent for such changes is certainly not a given, but the latest polling suggests that a majority in the Republic will at least consider such changes to accommodate a united Ireland.

Respondents to the opinion polls in Northern Ireland and the South were asked their attitudes to how the Republic’s Constitution should take account of Irish unity were that to be the result of referendums in the future. They were also asked about their attitude to a process to decide possible changes to the national flag and national anthem in the event of unity.

The questions evoked mixed responses in the South and different – but also mixed – responses in the North.


A clear majority – two-thirds of voters – in the South are in favour of some sort of constitutional change, though they are almost evenly divided on whether there should be a completely new constitution for the unified country (35 per cent) or whether the existing Constitution should be amended to take account of unity (31 per cent).

There is a substantial minority, however, who say the Constitution should not be changed at all. The oldest voters (26 per cent) and Fianna Fáil voters (26 per cent) are most likely to share this view; Sinn Féin voters are no more or less likely to favour no changes than the population as a whole (21 per cent).

But if voters are open to the idea of change, many of them also seem quite unsure about parallel changes, in this case to the national flag and anthem. Asked their view on holding a referendum to change the flag and anthem after a Yes vote on a united Ireland, just 29 per cent agree with the idea, while a similar proportion, 30 per cent, disagree. And a further 30 per cent say they “would like to know more about this idea before I came to a view”. Some 10 per cent gave no opinion.

The responses follow the pattern of other responses this year, and also in last year’s study, to questions about potential changes in the South to accommodate Irish unity – there’s a group who are willing to change, a group who are unwilling to change, and a group that is unsure. On this issue, they are very evenly divided.

However, as Profs John Garry, Brendan O’Leary and Jamie Pow point out in their analysis of this data (carried in our online edition today), the findings suggest that in contrast to the strong resistance to changing the flag and anthem exhibited by southerners in last year’s survey, today’s findings suggest that a process that could lead to change is something to which southern voters might be open. In other words, there is evidence of greater flexibility here.

The picture in the North is complicated by the sectarian/political divide but is similar in some respects. There is also a majority for constitutional change there, but the proportions are different – 41 per cent of people say they want a new constitution for the new united political entity, with 20 per cent happy with changes to the existing Constitution.

Just a tenth of voters say the Constitution should remain the same as it is now. A comparatively large number of respondents from a Protestant background (40 per cent) and from neither a Catholic nor Protestant background (38 per cent) offer no view.

A slight majority (44 per cent) of respondents in the North who express a view say they would like to see a referendum on changing the flag and anthem, with 23 per cent disagreeing and 20 per cent who want to know more before deciding.

There is broad agreement in the North across the community on the desirability of changes – among Catholic and Protestants, the numbers favouring a referendum on changing the flag and anthem are almost identical (44 per cent and 45 per cent), and not much dissimilar on a new constitution (43 per cent and 39 per cent).

The willingness of southern voters, however, to make changes to their State remains a key question of the entire process.

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