Northern Ireland

Poll suggests some nationalist sympathy for dissidents

Fourteen per cent of nationalists sympathise with dissident republicans, new research claims.

The findings are contained in a survey on electoral change and prospects in Northern Ireland. It will be presented at a conference at Queen's University on Thursday.

Professor Jon Tonge from Liverpool University said researchers had been surprised by the figure.

Researchers spoke to 1,002 people across NI from a range of backgrounds.

The face-to-face interviews were carried out in the three weeks after the general election.

It was part of a wider study but included questions about attitudes to dissidents.

Respondents were asked whether they had sympathy for the reasons why republican groups, such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA, continued to use violence.

8.2% (14% of those identifying themselves as nationalists) said yes.

Professor Tonge said a similar number of nationalists (8%), strongly liked or liked the 32 County Sovereignty movement or Republican Sinn Fein who he said "would be identified as the political associates, at least loosely, with those dissident armed organisations".

He also said it was important not exaggerate the strength of republican dissidents.

"86% of nationalists said they either had no sympathy or in a few cases refused to answer the question," he said.

"It's under 35-year-old males who identify either as Catholic or of no religion.

"The age thing is very striking and so is the gender.

"When one looks at the horrors of the conflict, in many ways they have very little memory of it even at the top end of that age range."

Professor Tonge said the research also highlighted the difference in perception of the scale of the threat between the two communities.

"They were offered three options, major, minor or no threat. A majority of Protestants , 53 percent described the dissidents as a major threat," he said.

"Whereas, only 17% of Catholics viewed dissidents as a major threat.

"I think that's actually quite a disturbing statistic in some ways, because it does emphasis quite strong communal differences. Three times as many Protestants viewing dissidents as a major threat.

"When what is needed is to build confidence between the two communities, it's statistics like that that can look fairly stark," he added.