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23 August 2001 Edition

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British people want out

BY FERN LANE

A survey conducted by ICM for The Guardian newspaper has revealed that only one in four Britons believe that the Six Counties should remain within the `United Kingdom'. In what will be a deeply unsettling finding for unionists, the poll reveals that 41% believe that Ireland should be united, whilst only 26% said that it should remain a part of Britain. The newspaper sai: ``For unionists, many of whom consider themselves British and refer to Britain as `the mainland', [the] findings amount to a cold shoulder from their fellow citizens.''

British propagandists will also be depressed at another of the poll's findings, which revealed that, despite the best efforts of the NIO, unionists and the right wing media, the British public does not blame republicans appreciably more than unionists for the current state of the peace process. Some 64% blame both sides equally whilst 3% thought unionists to blame and 5% named republicans. Significantly, the poll did not appear to offer those questioned the choice of whether they thought the British state was in any way responsible, a question which may well have altered the perception of a widespread attitude of ``a plague on both your houses''.

The results also conform to a wider, long-term consensus that Ireland should be united. An overwhelming majority of people in the 26 Counties and in the United States support unity. In spite of the clear desire by Britons to let Ireland go, Jeffrey Donaldson of the UUP yesterday remained undaunted, saying that the only view which counted was not that of millions of people in Britain - whose taxpayers pay untold billions in order to maintain the British presence, or indeed that of millions more in Ireland and the United States - but that of unionism alone. Writing in Wednesday's Guardian, he claimed: ``Far from being upset by the poll, unionists will draw comfort from the constitutional and political reality that under the principle of consent, their future in the union will be determined by the people of Northern Ireland themselves, voting in a real poll.'' He was, of course, using the term ``people'' in the same sense as the DUP, which employs it to refer only the unionist people.

Whether the British government, which was voted into power on far less than 41% of the population (indeed, was voted in on almost exactly the same percentage as the minority who want to retain the Six Counties), will heed this verdict on its continued presence in Ireland remains to be seen, but The Guardian on Tuesday observed that ``British officials have spoken privately of a limited public patience in Britain with Northern Ireland and its problems''.

In its editorial, the newspaper conceded that the poll will be ``heartbreaking news to unionists.

``Their whole world is built on the perception of themselves as UK citizens - even as Brits - who by some irrelevant fluke of geography happen to be located across the Irish Sea. They are, in the cliché, more British than the British. They wave the flag, speak reverentially of the crown and cling to customs that vanished from the place they still think of as ``the mainland'' in the `50s. To enter the head offices of the Ulster Unionist party is to see the Britain of a bygone era: portraits of the Queen Mum on the staircase. Now they hear, via an opinion poll, that the feelings are not mutual - that most of us do not want them.''
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