Up to 30 per cent supporting dissidents

THE level of sympathy for the reasons for ongoing republican violence could be as high as 30 per cent amongst card-carrying nationalists, according to a new survey by the University of Liverpool.

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 glaigh na hireann, 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.

Whilst the results do not give that breakdown Dr Tonge agreed sympathy amongst this group would be higher than the 14 per cent based on community of origin.

He told the Sentinel: "We used the community of origin to label as nationalist rather than self-ascribed label as nationalist hence our smaller percentage."

On the same basis 91 participants who said they were sympathetic to the rationale behind republican campaigns during the Troubles would account for 37 per cent of the 240 self-classified nationalists if it were assumed they all classed themselves as such.

Elsewhere, the survey also revealed a high level of support for the reasons behind loyalist violence during the Troubles even amongst those classified as unionist based only on where they lived (community of origin.)

Dr Tonge advised the Sentinel that over 30 per cent of unionist participants were sympathetic to the reasons motivating violence issuing from groups such as the UDA, UFF, UVF Red Hand Commando and LVF during the Troubles. 15.5 per cent of unionist had a lot of sympathy, whilst 15.9 per cent had a little sympathy.

And though just 341 of the 1002 survey participants openly described themselves as unionist, a considerable 161 participants claimed they had sympathy for the reasons behind loyalist violence.

Once again if those 161 had all self-classified as unionists the level of sympathy amongst that group would come out as 47 per cent.

Separate figures based on those card-carrying unionists are not available but Dr Tonge again agreed the level of sympathy would be higher than 30 per cent amongst that group.

Elsewhere, participants were marginally more sympathetic to the reasons for the Provo, Official IRA and INLA campaigns of the 70s, 80s and 90s than they were to violence by IRA splinter groups such as glaigh na hireann, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA.

Provo, Official IRA and INLA violence during the Troubles was viewed with "no sympathy at all" by 74.6 per cent of participants in the survey in contrast to the slightly higher 75.3 per cent of participants who viewed ongoing republican violence with distaste.

Sympathy for the reasons for ongoing republican violence was just marginally lower (8.2 per cent) than was sympathy for former violence (9.1 per cent).

Add to these figures those ambivalent respondents - the don't knows and don't want to knows - and about 25 per cent of people refused to say they had "no sympathy at all" for Provo or splinter IRA violence.

The survey also revealed a majority of participants (56.7 per cent) wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom whilst just 21.1 per cent wanted to reunify with the rest of Ireland.

A minority of one wanted to "Unite with Scotland," another to "Unite with Europe," and a third "Independence for Northern Ireland."

A majority of participants were in favour of the consent principle enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement with 54.3 per cent supporting the guarantee that Northern Ireland remain part of the UK for as long as a majority of people here want it to do so.

Just 5.3 per cent of people said they were opposed to this concept with a further 30.4 per cent neither for nor against.

A majority of those who took part in the survey either thought the Assembly had tax-raising powers (32.7 per cent) or didn't know whether it had or not (35.9 per cent). Twenty-eight per cent realised it doesn't.