Most Protestants against self-rule

By John Murray Brown
June 10 2004

Two-thirds of Northern Ireland Protestants are either opposed or indifferent to the reinstatement of self-rule for the province, according to a survey to be published next week.

The 2004 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, one of the most authoritative snapshots of public attitudes, highlights a sharp increase in Protestant disaffection with the Good Friday agreement since the power-sharing institutions were suspended in October 2002.

The survey, carried out in late 2003 and early 2004, says 70 per cent of Protestants believe the agreement has benefited Catholics compared with 50 per cent at the time the deal was signed in 1998. Then, 41 per cent of Protestants believed both communities benefited equally. Today just 18 per cent do so.

Sinn Féin, the IRA's political wing and after the November assembly elections the largest nationalist party, is against any renegotiation. But interestingly, the survey suggests that over a third of Catholics accept there are specific aspects of the agreement that need to be renegotiated.

On the Protestant side, 43 per cent believe it is possible to get agreement if there is full implementation, or a renegotiation of specific aspects, although 41 per cent believe the agreement should be renegotiated or abandoned.

Rick Wilford, politics professor at Queen's University, Belfast, believes the results suggest that if issues such as decommissioning and paramilitarism could be resolved, Protestant support for the agreement could be restored.

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