Analysis: Scottish vote sparks soul searching in Northern Ireland

Tue Dec 4, 2012 7:15am EST
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By Conor Humphries

BELFAST (Reuters) - London's decision to grant Scotland a referendum on independence after 300 years has raised an awkward question for Northern Ireland's Catholics.

After centuries fighting for its downfall, do they really want the United Kingdom to collapse?

Irish nationalist leaders have seized on Scotland's 2014 vote as the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom and are calling for their own referendum on ending hundreds of years of rule from London.

But many Irish Catholics, the mainstay of the Republican cause for a united Ireland, appear reluctant to seize what their leaders say is a historic opportunity, fearful of upsetting a fragile peace and nervous of who will pay the bills.

"We are better off staying where we are from a rational and an emotional point of view," said Sean Kerr, a 61-year-old supporter of Sinn Fein, the main pro-Irish nationalist party.

"We went through 'The Troubles' and things have settled down, people are getting on together. Just leave us alone. Just let the hare sit, as they say up here."

He is not alone. Fifty-two percent of the province's Catholics think it should remain part of the United Kingdom, according the last major poll on the issue, released last year.

That number has been seized upon by unionist rivals in recent weeks as proof that a referendum would fail in Northern Ireland, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) saying that Catholic resistance meant Northern Ireland's place in the union was more secure that Scotland's.   Continued...

The Union flag and Saltire are seen flying side by side at Bankfoot in Perthshire ,Scotland January 10, 2012. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne