The abolition of the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1972 raised the question of whether or not a new Assembly should have the power to determine which state Northern Ireland should belong to. The British government decided to put this question directly to the people every ten years by referendum, and the first (and so far only) referendum on this issue was held on 8 March 1973. The Unionist parties, and Alliance and the NILP, campaigned for a vote in favour of staying in the UK; the Nationalist parties urged their supporters to boycott the vote.
Nationalists argued that the Border Poll, as it became known, should have asked other relevant questions, such as whether the people supported a UK white paper on Northern Ireland, to avoid it becoming a ‘sectarian head count’.
The results were as follows:
The result: 591,820 electors voted in favour of the first proposition:
‘Do you want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom?’
While 6,463 electors voted in favour of the second proposition:
‘Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom?’
Brian Faulkner, who had been the last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, claimed the result left ‘no doubt in any one’s mind what the wishes of Ulster’s people are. Despite an attempted boycott by some, almost 600,000 electors voted for the maintenance of the union with Great Britain’. He also claimed that the poll showed that a ‘quarter of the Northern Ireland Catholic population who voted… voted for the maintenance of the union’ and that the result was a “blow… against IRA mythology”.