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Voters in Republic remain hostile to Commonwealth, poll finds

Strength of hostility depends on how Commonwealth is described in polling question, suggesting views in the South could be open to change

Voters in the Republic are strongly negative about the Commonwealth and are opposed to a future united Ireland being a member – but their hostility diminishes when they are told about the international character of the Commonwealth and when its British character is downplayed.

The latest wave of research for The Irish Times/ARINS North and South series seeks to examine attitudes among voters in Northern Ireland and the Republic to flags, emblems and symbols – and to the Commonwealth.

It also seeks to probe how those attitudes might be open to change by presenting the issues to respondents in two different ways.

In today’s instalment of the series, respondents were split into two groups and were asked about their attitudes to the Commonwealth in two different ways – one that stressed its British, post-imperial character, and the other that noted a majority of Commonwealth countries are republics with a president as their head of state and also mentioned the Commonwealth games.


While voters in the Republic who express a view are overwhelmingly negative about the Commonwealth, it is clear that they are noticeably less negative when the British character is not stressed in the framing of the question.

When the British character of the Commonwealth is stressed, 51 per cent of all voters have a negative view of the organisation, including 26 per cent whose view is “very negative”. Just 14 per cent have a positive view.

When the “international” character is stressed, those with a negative view falls to 39 per cent, with positives rising to 21 per cent. Don’t knows and those with neither negative or positive view is at 37 per cent.

NI Poll Friday

The results suggest that Southern views on the Commonwealth are not entirely fixed and may be open to change during any national debate on the issue. With previous findings in the survey demonstrating significant Southern resistance to changes which might be expected to accommodate unionists in a future united Ireland, this is an important insight. It suggests that the way future debates are conducted, and how they are framed for voters, will affect their outcome.

For now, however, Southern voters remain opposed to a possible future united Ireland being a member of the Commonwealth. And even when the international character of the Commonwealth is stressed in the question, 55 per cent of Southern voters say that a future united Ireland should be “in the European Union but not in the Commonwealth”; when the British character is stressed, 64 per cent of voters say that Ireland should be in the EU but not the Commonwealth.

Unsurprisingly, the picture in Northern Ireland is quite different. When the British character is stressed, hostility increases among voters from a Catholic background.

Asked about possible membership of the Commonwealth for a future united Ireland, there is strong support among voters in the North, who declare a preference when the international character of the organisation is stressed – 32 per cent say a united Ireland should be in the EU and in the Commonwealth, while a further 15 per cent say it should be in the Commonwealth but not in the EU.

When the British character is stressed, 28 per cent say a united Ireland should be in the EU and the Commonwealth and 13 per cent say it should only be in the Commonwealth.

Either way, however, the question of the Commonwealth – and the broader question of how “British” a future united Ireland might be – remains a divisive one.

The opinion polls are part of the North and South series, a research collaboration between ARINS and The Irish Times. ARINS, Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South, is a joint project of the Royal Irish Academy and the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame. This is the second year of the collaboration between The Irish Times and ARINS.

Two simultaneous, identical polls were taken by Ipsos B&A in the Republic and Ipsos in Northern Ireland, which conducted in-home interviews with over 1,000 voters in each jurisdiction. The margin of error in each is estimated to be +/-3.1 per cent.

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