Dissident Republican attacks, assassinations by loyalist paramilitaries, even UVF led riots or riots associated with Orange Marches don’t frighten me, don’t suggest to me that the Good Friday agreement is in a precarious position. A return to violence is not pre-figured in crimes or acts of violence themselves, but in the public support for violence. This is why I find a recent study by Liverpool University extremely troubling:
Research by Liverpool University published last week revealed 14 per cent of nationalists had sympathy for the reasons behind ongoing violence by IRA splinter groups such as Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA.
But the 14 per cent figure was a conservative estimate classifying participants of the ESRC Northern Ireland 2010 Westminster Election as nationalist based only upon the demographics of the area in which they were surveyed.
Of 1,002 people taking part in the survey, just 240 classed themselves as nationalists, whilst 341 classed themselves as unionist. 421 said they were neither.
Professor Jon Tonge of the Department of Politics, University of Liverpool, agreed that amongst those people who openly described themselves as nationalist the level of sympathy for the reasons behind ongoing republican violence as well as the Provo campaign of the 70’s and 80’s would likely be closer to 30 per cent.
For example, 82 participants of the ESRC survey said they either had a “lot of sympathy” or “a little sympathy” for the rationale motivating OnH, RIRA and CIRA today.
Based on the assumption these 82 participants all self-classified as nationalists, 34 per cent of that group would have been sympathetic to the reasons behind ongoing republican violence.
I have not taken time to look at Jonathan Tonge‘s study itself, (this quotation is from the Londonderry Sentinel), and the methodology for such a study is certainly complex. Much seems to hang on whether the proportions are of those who self describe as republican or loyalist, or of those who live in communities normally described as republican or loyalist. Also, whether “sympathy” means “support” or not – and what the relation is between sympathy and support in various communities. It is relevant to consider that different communities might literally demonstrate different relations between public (or even personal) sympathy for violence, and willingness to actively support or protect those who engage in violence. According to Peter Taylor, although public support among Protestants for paramilitaries was never high, he believes that in practice there was overwhelming but quiet approval by the community for the actions of the UDA, UVF and other groups. This would explain help explain why the UDA and UVF have never fared well in elections since their inclusion in mainstream politics, whereas Sinn Fein, associated with the Provisional IRA, has captured a significant portion of the republican vote.
Hopefully the proportions of those who support the ongoing use of terror for political means in Ireland will continue to dwindle as the country aclimatizes itself to peace. Interestingly, only 53 percent of those surveyed support what is called “consent” – which means Northern Ireland will remain in the UK as long as a majority of the population wish that remain the case. Presumably significant portions of both the nationalist and loyalist communities continue to oppose the idea of consent for opposing reasons.
Only a single respondent (out of a thousand) desired “independence for Northern Ireland” – I suppose this means 3rd way Ulster Nationalism is near completely dead.