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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 04:45 GMT
Thaw detected in Irish-UK relations
By James Helm
BBC correspondent in Dublin

A new study published in Ireland suggests relations with the British have never been so good, despite gripes about football fans and a "superior attitude" across the Irish Sea.

It was Mark Twain who famously suggested that familiarity breeds contempt.

The study, entitled "Through Irish Eyes", tries to reflect the current state of a relationship which has frequently been characterised not only by contempt, but by bitter disputes, resentments and outright violence down the centuries.

The relationship between Britain and Ireland has, however, always been much more complicated than that.

Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair
The Irish and British leaders are 'new generations' in their countries

Generations of Irish workers have sought employment, and as a result based their lives and those of their families, across the Irish Sea.

In modern, successful Ireland, significant proportions of the population watch British TV, support an English football team (but not the England national team), and travel to see relatives in Britain.

When he addressed a joint session of the Irish parliament in 1998, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair told those gathered: "My generation in Britain sees Ireland differently today and probably the same generation here feels differently about Britain."

Attitudes

And the study, commissioned by the British Council in Ireland, and the British Embassy, suggests that attitudes towards Britain have improved in recent years.

Almost eight out of 10 of those questioned view Britain in a broadly favourable way - a higher figure than the US or European partners such as Germany or France.

Of those who are less favourable in their attitudes, 20% cite historical reasons, others complaining of Britain's "superior attitude".

English football fans, the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the nuclear power station at Sellafield all produce negative factors among Irish people surveyed. Sport remains a divisive issue.

Woman reading the paper in Ireland
The Sellafield power plant has been a bone of contention

The two countries retain their close economic ties, with Britain being Ireland's biggest export market. Ireland has witnessed rapid economic change and significant success in recent years, a phenomenon which became known as the Celtic Tiger era.

The same period has also seen the peace process in Northern Ireland develop.

On the issue of Northern Ireland, 68% of those surveyed say they favour the concept of a united Ireland, while a smaller figure, 36%, believe it will happen.

Tony Reilly, director of the British Council in Ireland, says the study is intended to stimulate debate on the relationship between the two countries.

The themes produced by "Through Irish Eyes" will be discussed at a seminar at Mansion House in Dublin on Wednesday 10 Feb. The former Taoiseach Dr Garrett Fitzgerald will be among those taking part, along with the British ambassador, Stewart Eldon.

Mr Eldon said: "Because the relationship between the UK and Ireland is so important to us, it is vital that we know what people think and feel about us, and, perhaps more importantly, to know why they hold that view."

The research was carried out between June and September last year across the Republic of Ireland. 400 people were interviewed and 1,200 were surveyed.


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