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Poll shows Northern Ireland majority against united Ireland

BELFAST (Reuters) - A majority of voters in Northern Ireland would oppose the region leaving the United Kingdom to form a united Ireland if a referendum were held tomorrow, according to a poll published by the Belfast Telegraph newspaper on Tuesday.

Irish unity would be supported by just 29% of voters, with 52% against, the poll of 2,000 people organized by Liverpool University and Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council found. The remaining 19% said they did not know how they would vote.

If ‘don’t knows’ are excluded, the figures show 65% to 35% in favor of remaining within the United Kingdom, the survey showed.

“The data offers an antidote to excitable recent commentary concerning the imminence of Irish unity,” said Jon Tonge, Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool who led the survey.

But he added that the poll indicated a 2% rise in support for Irish unification since the last poll in 2017, a rate of increase that would produce a majority for a united Ireland within two decades.

Under Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which largely ended decades of violence between mainly Catholic nationalists seeking to merge with Ireland and Protestant unionists who want to remain part of the United Kingdom, the British government can call a referendum if a “yes” majority looks likely.

Sinn Fein, an Irish nationalist party in both Ireland and Northern Ireland which won the most votes in an Irish election earlier this month, has said it wants London to hold a poll within five years.

Asked to label themselves ideologically, 28% chose ‘unionist’, 25% ‘nationalist’ and 40% said neither.

The vast majority of self-identified nationalists supported a united Ireland and the vast majority of unionists were against. But there was also a clear majority against unification among people who defined themselves as neither, with 73% saying they would support remaining in the United Kingdom.

Just over 2,000 people were interviewed between December 28, 2019 and February 11 by Social Market Research.

Reporting by Conor Humphries and Amanda Ferguson; Editing by Peter Graff

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