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Even split among Northern Irish voters' support for Protocol

47% of respondents said the Protocol is appropriate for Northern Ireland, while the same number disagreed.

Image: PA
Image: PA

PEOPLE IN NORTHERN Ireland are evenly split on the Protocol, a new poll has suggested.

When asked whether the Protocol is appropriate for Northern Ireland, 47% of respondents said that it is but the same number disagreed.

Similarly, 43% think that the Protocol is, on balance, good for Northern Ireland, whereas 48% think it isn’t.

However a clear majority are concerned about the effects of the Protocol on Northern Ireland, in particular the cost of products and the choice of goods for consumers. 

Over half of people (57%) told researchers for Lucid Talk and Queen’s University Belfast that they would like to see the UK agreeing to regulatory alignment with the EU to address issues caused by the Protocol, which has seen a raft of checks on goods arriving at ports from Britain.

A minority (38%) said that they would like to see such checks and controls moved from ports and airports in Northern Ireland to the Irish land border.

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission’s vice president, told the NI Assembly this week that it is prepared to consider “bold steps” to reduce the required checks under Brexit’s Irish Sea border to an “absolute minimum”.

Introduced as a result of Brexit, the Protocol has drawn anger from Unionists and sparked protests as loyalists regard it as separating the North from the the rest of the UK.

It is set to be one of the big issues at the next election in the North, with three-quarters of respondents to the Lucid Talk poll saying it would be a key factor in their ballot. 

The poll, which surveyed 1500 people, found that the majority (67%) agree that Northern Ireland does need “particular arrangements” for managing the impact of Brexit, but they are nonetheless divided on the Protocol itself.

The margin of error is plus or minus 2-3%.

However, 56% agree that the Protocol provides Northern Ireland with a “unique set of post-Brexit economic opportunities”, according to pollsters.

The researchers said: “[The poll] reveals that, although people’s concerns are still considerable, the protests and political debate over the Protocol since April have not led to any significant growth in the proportion of voters objecting to it.

“This suggests that positions on the Protocol are already quite well entrenched.”

The biggest concern for people is the cost of certain products (69%), in contrast to the choice of products for consumers (61%) or the existence of checks and controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain (58%).

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Trust in parties

A high level of distrust exists in the DUP and UK government’s ability to manage the impact of the Protocol, with just 5% trusting the UK government and 86% distrusting it. 

A split is identified when people were asked whether they trust the EU on the issue as 40% trust the European Commission. 48% distrust it.  

Co-investigator on the project, Professor Katy Hayward, from Queen’s University Belfast and a Senior Fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe, noted: “People in NI are highly exercised by the Protocol, both for and against – and in equal proportions. The political tensions are compounded by the low levels of trust in the political parties when it comes to the Protocol, and by the fact that the Protocol is likely to feature heavily in the next Assembly election.”

The poll found that the DUP is distrusted by eight out of ten voters regarding the Protocol, while Sinn Féin is distrusted by six out of ten. Alliance, the SDLP and the UUP are distrusted by around 4 in 10 respondents.

The researchers noted that a third of poll respondents are still to make up their mind as to whether they trust the UUP or not on the topic.

Trust in parties over the Protocol is important because of the democratic consent vote that MLAs will have, researchers said.

This is because, at the end of 2024, the NI Assembly will vote on the continued application of Articles 5-10 of the Protocol, which relate mostly to the movement of goods).

“Most respondents (91%) have a view on how they wish MLAs to vote, and, again, this is evenly split: 46% in favour of the continued application of Articles 5-10 and 45% against.”

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