NI 100: Only 40% think NI’s formation should be celebratedon April 20, 2021 at 5:48 pm

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The figure comes from a poll commissioned by the BBC’s Spotlight programme.

Map of Northern Ireland

image copyrightGetty Images

Only 40% of people in Northern Ireland see its formation 100 years ago as a cause for celebration, a poll suggests.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the documentary he was a “proud unionist” who would be celebrating.

However 45% of those surveyed disagreed with the proposition that “the formation of NI 100 years ago was an achievement which should be celebrated”.

The poll was commissioned by BBC NI’s Spotlight programme.

Outright celebration of the centenary turned out to be the least popular of five options included in the survey.

In Northern Ireland, 48% agreed with the statement that “the partition of Ireland and the creation of a land border 100 years ago was a negative development which should be regretted”.

  • Watch the programme from 21:00 BST on BBC One NI and the BBC News NI website, with a live discussion on the website and the BBC iPlayer immediately afterwards

Some 50% wanted to concentrate on current challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic rather than the centenary, whilst 61% backed marking Northern Ireland’s formation in a neutral manner acknowledging the differing opinions on the subject.

The same proportion, 61%, agreed with the statement “Northern Ireland’s history is not just about constitutional politics. The centenary should provide an opportunity to showcase its sporting, business, scientific and cultural achievements”.

Polling results

In the Republic of Ireland, celebrating the formation of Northern Ireland was even more unpopular, with just 12% agreeing with the proposition.

The most popular options were marking this year’s centenary in a neutral manner, which was favoured by 74% of those surveyed, and regretting partition – a view 71% of those polled south of the Irish border agreed with.

Although the prime minister said he would celebrate Northern Ireland’s centenary, he acknowledged the past 10 decades have seen some unhappy and difficult periods, with nationalists feeling excluded for much of the time.

He recalled the words of one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, who said on the eve of the Good Friday Agreement that he felt “the hand of history” on his shoulder.

Mr Johnson said it was now time to look forward to Northern Ireland’s future.

Also taking part in the programme was Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin.

Looking back to the bloodshed of the 1920s and its legacy, Mr Martin acknowledged “the hurt and the terrible deeds that were done”, but told Spotlight that “people did evolve from it and we can’t be captured forever by the bitterness of the past”.

Mr Martin said it was his “firm belief that the vast majority of people on this island have left violence well behind”.

Mr Johnson told Spotlight he did not envisage the UK considering a border poll to determine whether Northern Ireland should leave the UK for “a very, very long time to come”.

The prime minister said he would prefer people within the UK to think collectively about what they can do together, rather than concentrating on how they can split themselves apart.

Polling results

The taoiseach refused to put any timescale on the holding of a border poll.

However, he did indicate that he expects a completely different political dispensation on the island in another 100 years’ time.

Given the recent strain on Anglo-Irish relations in the wake of Brexit, Mr Martin argued that calling an early border poll, which Sinn Féin has demanded, would be “explosive and divisive”.

One of Mr Martin’s predecessors as taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has suggested the 30th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in 2028 might be a suitable year to hold a border poll.

However Mr Martin said it was not helpful to stipulate dates.

Instead he “much prefers to see the meat on the bone, and for me, the meat on the bone is real engagement, real discussions, real opening up”.

The interviews with the prime minister and the taoiseach form part of Spotlight – A Contested Centenary, which also includes contributions from First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Spotlight will reveal more results from a major opinion poll it has commissioned on both sides of the border, which asked about a potential resurgence of violence and how much longer respondents believed Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK.

During his interview for BBC Northern Ireland, the prime minister pledged to take whatever steps are necessary to end what he describes as the “ludicrous barriers” to internal trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland created by the EU withdrawal agreement.

Mr Johnson said his government was trying to – in his words – “sandpaper” the controversial Northern Ireland Brexit protocol into shape.

Polling resulst

He also warned that, if the EU insists on being dogmatic over matters such as the supply of British rose bushes, soil and sausages to Northern Ireland, then the government will take further steps.

However, to Mr Martin, the controversial Brexit protocol is not a danger to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK.

He said it was overly dramatic for anyone to claim the protocol – which has led to checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – is tearing the UK apart.

The taoiseach believes the early signs were that unionists were going to work with the protocol in pragmatic way.

However, Mr Martin is now concerned that “heat” generated around the protocol by its political critics has “drowned out” the voices of Northern Ireland’s businesses, farmers and educational institutions who can see potential advantages in the new trading arrangements.

Mark Devenport

The poll was carried out by the NI Pollsters LucidTalk and the Irish polling firm Ireland Thinks.

  • In Northern Ireland polling was carried out online between 5 and 7 April and 2,845 responses were used for the analysis.
  • In the Irish Republic polling took place between 6 and 9 April and 1,088 responses were analysed.

The margin of error is +/- 2.5%.

The results from a number of other questions in the survey regarding what should happen to the Irish flag, national anthem, the Stormont Executive and the health service in the event of a United Ireland will be released on BBC Northern Ireland’s political programme The View on Thursday night.

The Spotlight film – A Contested Centenary – is presented by BBC News NI’s former political editor Mark Devenport, who has been meeting people whose family stories are intertwined with Northern Ireland’s often tragic 100 year history.

The programme will be broadcast on Tuesday night at 21:00 BST on BBC One NI and the BBC News NI website with a live discussion on the website and the BBC iPlayer immediately afterwards, exploring the issues raised and delving further into the results of the cross-border opinion poll.


As Northern Ireland reaches its 100th birthday, Spotlight has commissioned a major opinion poll on both sides of the border to find out whether people want the Brexit protocol scrapped, whether they are concerned about a potential resurgence of violence and how much longer they believe Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK.

If you are reading this page on the BBC News app, you will need to visit the mobile version of the BBC website to submit your question on this topic.

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