Brexit showed the dangers of not fully planning the effects of the referendums, so what would happen if we had to get one for the reunification of Ireland?
There seems to be no chance for political leaders on either side in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the pre-planned results that the referendum will require. There is active opposition from trade union parties against the discussion on modeling a hypothetical united Ireland. “Why talk about unification? It would be like discussing our own suicide, “said one of the union̵
But a group of 12 leading scholars gathered by the Constitutional Department at University College London have spent the last two years pondering major issues amid fears that the vote could happen almost by accident.
In a cumbersome 259-page report, Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland, they ask how a border study can best be designed and conducted.
So how can a referendum happen, when can it happen and what are the big problems?
Who has the power to convene a border survey?
The Belfast Good Friday Agreement (BGFA) of 1998 gives the Secretary of Northern Ireland the right to call a referendum at any time. However, he is legally obliged to call one if there is a majority in Northern Ireland in favor of reunification.
A poll should be called “if it seems likely at any time [sic] that a majority of the electorate would express a wish for Northern Ireland to cease to be part of the United Kingdom and to become part of a united Ireland. “
Is this subject to persecution? Yes, says Alan Renwick, deputy director of UCL’s constitutional department and one of the lead authors in the working group’s report.
“This part of the agreement is written in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and can therefore be taken to court in the UK. “Whether the judges would particularly like to judge is another matter,” he said.
How is the majority determined?
Not specified. But Renwick says the majority should show up consistently over time in opinion polls. “If this body of evidence consistently showed support for unification in the low 1950s, it seemed to meet the threshold set out in the agreement.” Then the secretary of state has a “mandatory obligation” to call a referendum.
UCL says the British government can use six sources of evidence before exercising its discretion: election results, opinion polls, qualitative research, voting in Stormont, polling stations and demographics.
Using the latter as a reference for a survey is something that trade unionists fear. The latest census is expected to show that the number of Catholics is approaching equal to or even ahead of the number of Protestants for the first time since the state’s 100s.
What do recent opinion polls show?
A recent BBC Spotlight poll in Northern Ireland shows that 43% in Northern Ireland support a united Ireland, with 51% supporting Ireland.
If a survey is conducted and the result is as follows close like Brexit, could unification happen?
Yes, says UCL. “A referendum must be convened if a vote for unification seems likely, albeit with a subtle difference.”
“It would violate the agreement [BGFA] require a higher threshold of 50% + 1, ”says UCL.
However, the working group noted in detail the need for the legitimacy of a border study and the need for consensus in the Good Friday agreement. If politics prevails, a simple majority will not be enough. Consent would also be needed south of the border.
Where would the parliament be in a united Ireland?
UCL outlines five constitutional options:
Granted institutions preserved in Northern Ireland, but with sovereignty transferred from London to Dublin.
A central legislature that is probably in Dublin. Trade unionists are likely to see this as a hostile takeover. “This model is a historical preference of many Irish Republicans, constitutional or otherwise. But some would see this approach (as seen in our evidence sessions) as contrary to the consensus aspect of the 1998 agreement, “said UCL.
Federal state. This model “would avoid some of the management complications of unilateral decentralization. But a two-unit federation would be unbalanced, “said UCL, which looks at institutions based around urban areas of population centers.
What about staying in the union?
UCL suggests that the referendum will have two options, one to stay in the UK and one to leave. “The option to stay in the United Kingdom does not necessarily involve any change in the status quo, although reforms of constitutional or political arrangements may be proposed.”
A border poll is not inevitable, even if Brexit makes it part of the national conversation in Ireland.
While “the core issue of sovereignty is binary and majority,” UCL says, the peace agreement also emphasizes the need to respect the ethos of “reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust,” qualities that are not always abundant in established Irish communities.