What Are The Latest Odds On A United Ireland?
Betting sites have dampened their predictions on the possibility of Irish reunification within the next four years, but the markets suggest a United Ireland could still be forged before the decade is out.
Recent polling data points to a widening split between the North and South over what the future of the island holds.
A study published in the Irish Times in December highlighted the different views on unification.
While just 27% of those north of the border would vote in a referendum to leave the United Kingdom, more than 50% said they would vote to remain.
Yet in the Republic, 66% would support unification with Northern Ireland.
What’s more, Catholic voters in the North were “unexpectedly split” on what they would vote for. The data shows 55% would back unification, while 21% preferred to remain part of the UK.
This is particularly pertinent in the wake of census data released last year, which showed more people identify as Catholic in the North, than Protestant.
The split is 45.70% to 43.48% in favour of Catholics - a shift from the 2011 census when 48% identified themselves as Protestant.
Furthermore, the number of people calling themselves British has dropped 48% to 43%, while 33% now identify as Irish - up from 28%.
But it appears as though political ideology doesn’t skew with religion as much as it once did.
Indeed, the recent polls provide a far more accurate reflection on the mood of both nations than had been supposed previously.
The rise of Sinn Fein as a returning political power at Stormont sparked a belief that republicanism north of the border was growing.
Leader Mary Lou McDonald even said a united Ireland was within “touching distance” during a lecture to commemorate Bloody Sunday.
But the polls suggest otherwise, and “non-religious undecideds” are growing.
As the research states: “Voters [in Northern Ireland] who expressed a religious background of “Other” will also prove significant, with more than a third (35%) against unification and another third on the fence”.
United Ireland Odds
All this means bookmakers appear to be reacting by reducing the chances of a united Ireland this decade.
Political betting sites expanded their odds on a unification referendum being held in 2023 to 50/1, while there appears just a 4.8% (20/1) chance of the vote taking place next year.
In fact, even a united Ireland referendum in 2026 is priced at 12/1, which is a shift from 9/1 odds (10% probability) available last summer.
Still, Sinn Fein are holding out for referendums on both sides of the border by 2030 - and bookmakers reckon this may happen.
They’ve so far refused to budge their odds on a voter date by 2030, which is set at 3/1 with Betfair.
And there’s still a long way to go yet. The discussion of a united Ireland often spikes when the UK and EU clash over the Irish border arrangements.
Brexit has in many areas heightened the desire for Irish unification, and the longer the border situation rumbles on without a definitive agreement, the louder the republican calls grow.
Currently there are “very constrictive talks” between the UK and EU over how to resolve the issue. But that is no guarantee the negotiations will conclude soon.
Indeed, the majority of bookmakers expect this debate to rumble on for years to come, which is why they’re yet to shift their odds on a referendum date by 2030.
Between then the UK is scheduled to have at least two more general elections, Ireland will have their next election in 2025, and the mess at Stormont means we’re likely to see a few more elections there too.
How Scottish Independence Impacts Irish Unification
What is more likely to come up before Irish unification is another vote on Scottish independence.
The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) are pushing hard for IndyRef 2 but Westminster is fighting back, insisting there is no remit for another vote. That will almost certainly change in 2024 when the SNP, as predicted, sweep seats across Scotland.
And this could have an effect on anti-unionist efforts in Northern Ireland. Should Scotland secure another vote and win independence, the UK is almost certainly going to shut down the notion of it happening again across the Irish Sea.
The country is still reeling from the 2016 Brexit result. Losing Scotland too would be a severe shock to the economy and the country’s pride - an unquantifiable value that still nevertheless rules plenty of the UK’s policy decisions.
Should the SNP lose the second referendum then there may be more leeway for a vote in Ireland. But even then, the UK will only countenance this if they’re sure the pro-union side would win.
It means efforts for Irish unification are currently stuck. There is a long way to go before politicians would even begin seriously discussing a referendum, and even further for the UK government to agree to it.
But with every election win Sinn Féin secure north of the border, the louder the calls will grow. And, like Scotland, that appears the most sensible - if convoluted - way to achieve independence.
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