Featured Special Northern Ireland report

The heart of the Irish north sways

Since the UK’s exit from the European Union, there has been a growing call for reunification in Ireland and Northern Ireland. But what do Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland would think of a united island? 

Since the Brexit, Northern Irish people are questioning their future. And for good reason, imports from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland increased by 64% between January and November 2021 compared to the previous year, and exports to the north of the island increased by 48% over the same period. At the same time, the UK’s share of Irish imports fell by 21%, mainly in the chemicals, food and drink sectors. Some Irish companies are now looking to Europe for new suppliers and the number of direct shipping links between the port of Rosslare in Ireland and the Channel ports in France has exploded. To admit that Northern Ireland is better off than the rest of the UK because it is still part of the European common market would call into question the very essence of Brexit for Boris Jhonson. This Brexit economical outcome may into light the issue of a reunification.

For Ella Brennan, a Northern Irish Catholic, the prospect of reunification is a good thing, « The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union has pushed many Northern Irish people like me towards reunification ». According to her, the 2022 general elections should bring many surprises « Sinn Fein could for the first time in our history come out on top. When you see what happened in Ireland in the 2020 elections, you think it could happen again here ». And for good reason, Sinn Fein won most of the seats in the Irish parliament in 2020, for the first time in country’s history. 

On the contrary for Nick Walsh, a Protestant Northern Irishman, reunification would not be a good thing « We will be moving away from our Protestant roots, we have a common history with the United Kingdom. We have a common history with the United Kingdom. It can’t all be wiped away at once ». He also denounces the change in religion that is gradually nibbling away at the country. At the last census in 2011, Protestants represented 48% of the population and Catholics 45%. But in the 2021 census, many people believe that the number of Catholics will exceed the number of Protestants. For Nick Walsh, the legislative election will be an opportunity to reaffirm membership of the British crown « We must all mobilise and not allow ourselves to be overrun by the independents. Sinn Fein must be stopped ! »

Opinions are divided in Northern Ireland, but the possibility of reunification has never been greater. A recent BBC Northern Ireland poll showed that 45% of Northern Irish were in favour of remaining in the UK and 46% in favour of joining the Republic of Ireland. But excluding undecideds and abstainers, the result would give a majority of 51% in favour of reunification. It now remains to be seen whether a referendum could be organised in the years to come and above all whether this would not rekindle tensions in the region.

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