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What would a united Ireland look like?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Mar 14th, 2024 at 01:46:23 PM EST

Terry Wright asks the quite reasonable question: "What will a united Ireland look like?" and unionists often feel frustrated when they get what appears to them to be an unclear answer. But there is also a problem with the question because no one can foretell the future with absolute confidence and certainty. So perhaps it is more helpful (and accurate) to explain how the process of change is managed in Ireland, and how this might apply to Northern Ireland in a post re-unification scenario. There are a number of important points which should be noted in this regard:

  1. The Good Friday Agreement provides for only two alternative futures: Northern Ireland is either part of the UK or part of Ireland. There is no provision in the GFA for direct rule, for an independent Northern Ireland, or for some form of repartition. A border poll will be decided one way or the other by a simple 50% +1 majority. There is no provision for a unionist veto or for some form a weighted majority, for example, 60%, as has been advocated by some here.

  3. The GFA does not contain a `sunset clause.' It remains in force even after a vote for re-unification unless the two governments agree to end or amend it in some way. Thus, power sharing within Northern Ireland, the north south bodies, and the east west strands of the GFA will continue to operate, ensuring a continuing role for the British government in Northern Ireland, and a close relationship between Ireland and Britain after re-unification.

  5. Following re-unification, Northern Ireland will automatically become part of the EU and have its own representation in the European Parliament. Other international agreements, such as membership of the European Court of Human rights and the Common Travel Area with Britain, will continue to apply. The main difference is that Northern Ireland constituencies will elect members of parliament to the Dail rather than the House of Commons, where they will also have a realistic chance of forming part of a coalition government and becoming Ministers in the Irish cabinet.

  7. The Good Friday Agreement is silent on precisely what happens after a border poll is carried beyond sovereignty over Northern Ireland being transferred from Westminster to Dublin. The default position is that everything continues more or less as before, with "reserved functions" being exercised from Dublin rather than Westminster. Of course, it is open to both governments to negotiate a new Treaty to define exactly how Northern Ireland will be governed post re-unification and how any new relationship between Britain and Ireland should operate, but any such Treaty would have to be ratified by the Irish people. I have outlined in some detail what such a new Treaty might contain in chapter 5 of Sovereignty 2040.

  9. Any changes to existing constitutional arrangements throughout Ireland can only come about through a popular referendum in the twenty-six counties (prior to re-unification) and in the thirty-two counties thereafter. The Irish government may promise to hold a referendum on a new Treaty or on some issue of concern to unionists, but as we have seen in the past week, it cannot guarantee it will be passed. The Irish electorate frequently have other ideas.


There have been thirty-two successful amendments to the Irish constitution in the 87 years since it came into force in 1937. Some changes were obviously necessary to a document which reflected the political thinking and social mores of that time. However, thirteen amendments proposed by various governments have been rejected by the electorate, which demonstrates a healthy popular scepticism at what the political establishment might propose.

But the main point I am trying to make is that there is a clearly defined process for implementing changes to the Irish constitution before, during, and after the re-unification process which no government can entirely control. The recently proposed changes to the constitution were rejected overwhelmingly by the electorate despite having had the (lukewarm) support of all the major political parties and many independent civil society groups.

This is in stark contrast to the UK where there is no clearly defined process for amending the constitution or even for knowing precisely what it contains. The people must rely on the courts to interpret a complex web of legislation, precedent and custom and practice - which applies until it doesn't. There is no direct way the people change the constitution - even referenda in the UK are purely "advisory" - although it would be a brave government that ignores a referendum result.

So, the default position is that a United Ireland would look very much like Ireland and Northern Ireland being governed as they are now, with Dublin taking over the role in finance, foreign affairs, and defence policies that London has performed until now. Anything else would require a referendum to be passed by the Irish people, and it is impossible to predict exactly what they would and would not be amenable to in that context.

Furthermore, any changes to the Irish Constitution agreed as part of the re-unification process could always be further amended by the Irish electorate at some point in the future - unless it is also enshrined in an international Treaty with the UK or the EU, in which case both parties to the agreement would have to agree to any change.

Unionists might be well advised to press the UK government to negotiate such a new Treaty with Ireland prior to any border poll being held, as otherwise there would be nothing to stop a future Irish government and electorate proposing and passing amendments they didn't like. However, the holding of a border poll cannot be made conditional on the ratification of such a Treaty, as the GFA agreements stipulates only one condition for holding a border poll: That the Secretary of State deems it likely that a border poll would be passed.

It should, however, be noted that the Irish Constitution already incorporates the European Charter of Fundamental Rights  and all its Treaty obligations to implement EU law. So, there are already considerable constraints on what a future Irish government and electorate might do. Minority rights are a crucial element of the Charter which is a remarkably readable document for a legal text, and I would recommend anybody interested in the topic to give it a quick read.

But the bottom line is that no one can foretell exactly what a United Ireland would look like, because all countries are in a continuous state of evolution subject only to the constraints of their own constitutions and whatever international obligations they have entered into. For example, the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated on the assumption that both Britain and Ireland were committed to "an ever-closer union" as members of the EU, at a time when there was no agreed mechanism for any member state to leave the EU.

Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union only became law in 2009 and the Good Friday agreement was never renegotiated to take account of a situation where the UK or Ireland might leave the EU, and Britain and Ireland might drift apart. As we have seen with the protocol and then the Windsor Framework, that had some unanticipated consequences for Northern Ireland in trying to reconcile the requirements of both the GFA and the Brexit process.

So, to answer the question: What will a United Ireland look like? The default position is that it will look very much like Ireland and Northern Ireland as they are now, with Dublin taking over those powers currently exercised from Westminster. The GFA will continue to apply and there will continue to be power sharing in Northern Ireland and close institutional east west links between Britain and Ireland. Anything else will require either an agreement to terminate the GFA, a new British Irish treaty, or other constitutional changes within Ireland, all agreed by the people of Ireland in a referendum. That is how our constitutional democracy works.

No one knows precisely what unionists might want in that new dispensation or what the Irish electorate would be prepared to agree to. Current opinion polling appears to indicate that southern voters would not be prepared to accept major changes to the Irish constitution or standard of living, but who is to say how people would actually vote when presented with a concrete choice in a new political context? It all depends on what is on offer. Negotiations involve both give and take, although that may be a novel concept for some in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland voters will elect a considerable proportion of the members of the Dáil in line with their population and thus have a good chance of forming part of coalition governments and having a very big say in how all of Ireland is governed. Even as members of the opposition, they could have a considerable influence on political debate. Indeed, there is a fear amongst some in the south that battled hardened northern politicians will make easy meat of their rather complacent and not very energetic southern counterparts and come to dominate the politics of the island as a whole.

I know that some unionists will object that they have no wish to "interfere" in southern politics and "just want to be left alone" to run their lives as they see fit in the north. Some may withdraw from politics and the public space altogether if a border poll is carried. That too is their right. But I have absolutely no doubt that those who are prepared to do so will be very welcome to make their contribution to the governance of the island as a whole.

There are so many problems on the island that can best be addressed on an all-island basis - climate change, environmental protection, infrastructural development, agricultural disease and pest control, industrial policies, tourism, corporate taxation and the attraction of foreign direct investment, healthcare, education and training, sustainable energy production and distribution, and employee and consumer protection - to name but a few.

A united Ireland is often seen as a case of the south taking over the north. Far more likely, in my view, is that the north will shake up a very complacent southern establishment and end up gaining far more power on the island as a whole than it is losing within Northern Ireland. For too long politics in Northern Ireland has been infantilised by dependency on Britain to make all the big decisions when it could be far more influential in determining its own future as a far more significant part of Ireland than it could ever be within the UK.

My fear is that many in Northern Ireland will lack the will and self-confidence to take on that challenge. I do not want a United Ireland where Northern Ireland remains as divided, dysfunctional, and dependent on others as it is now. By all means, let unionists make their demands as to what they want to see in a United Ireland, but the Irish electorate will want to see what they have got to give in return. In the absence of a deal, what we will get in the event of a 50%+1 decision is the incorporation of Northern Ireland into Ireland more or less as is even if that means there will be a truculent minority refusing their "loser's consent".

But it takes two sides to make a deal. In the absence of a willingness to discuss the issue the only offer on the table is what is provided for in the GFA - a transfer of sovereignty and "reserved matters" to Dublin and little else. If you want something more, it is time you articulated what your demands are. The Irish government and electorate cannot respond to proposals and ideas that are not on the table, and when there is no one on the other side of the table to discuss them with.

It will be the breaking of the Seventh Seal.  Just ask any TULIP Reformed DUPe or TUV.  And their minds, such as they are, will never change.  The Republic will be compelled to outlive them.
by rifek on Sat Mar 16th, 2024 at 10:29:34 PM EST
Biden confuses Macron with dead French president Mitterrand | Le Monde |

The US president's gaffe came at a campaign speech in Las Vegas. He also misstated Mitterrand's country as Germany, before correcting himself.

US President Joe Biden confused his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron with France's long-dead former leader François Mitterrand, in a speech that went viral in video footage Monday, February 5. Addressing a campaign event in Las Vegas on Sunday, the 81-year-old US leader described Macron's reaction to a speech at a G7 meeting in 2020. As well as getting Macron's name wrong, he misstated the country he leads.

"And Mitterrand, from Germany - I mean, from France - looked at me and said, said 'You know, what - why - how long you back for?'" Biden said. Mitterrand was French president from 1981 to 1995, and died in 1996. In the White House transcript published later, Mitterand's name is crossed out, and Macron's added in square brackets.

Biden's basic problem with Blacks

In April last year, a White House transcript also corrected Biden when he confused New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team with the Black and Tans, a British military force notorious for its involvement in the Irish War of Independence.

The transcript of his speech, given in a pub in Ireland, crossed out "Black and Tans" and inserted "All Blacks."

'Sapere aude'
by Oui (Oui) on Sun Mar 17th, 2024 at 08:04:53 AM EST
In the meantime, congratulations on another Six Nations championship.
by rifek on Wed Mar 20th, 2024 at 01:42:00 PM EST
without Leo?
"I know that others will, how shall I put it, cope with the news just fine. That is the great thing about living in a democracy.
by Cat on Wed Mar 20th, 2024 at 05:07:20 PM EST
Share of votes in the Brexit referendum of 2016 in the United Kingdom, by age group

The 18-24 age group voted 73% Remain ... just a matter of one generation and Britain will vote to return? Never that linear, people tend to become more conservative as they grow older. Disaster strikes at a point of no return when the population starts to contract 🙃

1.) Effect of education, personal wealth, homeownership are likely greater on how people vote.

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Thu Mar 21st, 2024 at 07:09:27 AM EST
You loosened some tongues ... a lively debate  @SluggerO'Toole

'Sapere aude'
by Oui (Oui) on Thu Mar 21st, 2024 at 07:13:03 AM EST

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