Belfast Telegraph

Scottish referendum: Following vote the question arises whether we will have say on any changes in Northern Ireland

By Steven Agnew

Following the Scottish referendum and Peter Robinson's call for a St Andrews Mark II, the question arises as to whether the citizens of Northern Ireland will get to have their say on any proposals which may emerge.

In April 2013 I called for a formal process to review, reform and revitalise the Good Friday Agreement, 15 years after its signing. Over a year on I may get my wish.

Martin McGuinness's statement that he is supportive of a reduction in the number of MLAs and Stormont departments means it is likely there is an agreement between the First and Deputy First Minister that change is required. Peter Robinson has been clear he wants all Assembly parties involved, and he is open to other parties being involved. The Green Party will be keen to join in. Central to its platform will be the need for better public involvement.

In our analysis the greatest failure of the peace process has been the lack of genuine engagement with citizens. The Good Friday Agreement was dubbed the 'People's Agreement' but, once it was signed, the people were excluded.

The DUP saw the St Andrews Agreement as a sufficient departure from the Good Friday Agreement to allow it to enter government with Sinn Fein. The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by 71% of those who voted, but given that St Andrews was signed after the 2007 Assembly elections, no one could claim it was ever put to the electorate.

The Haass process produced a set of proposals, but again there was no opportunity for the public to give its verdict. Recently, when the Republic reviewed its constitution, a process was established that brought together a sample of citizes and their politicians in a deliberative process. Issues such as same sex marriage, votes at 16 and the role of women were discussed.

Ultimately the Irish constitution can only be changed as a result of a referendum. Given that the Good Friday Agreement is in essence the constitution for Northern Ireland, I feel the same rule should apply. While referenda are by their nature divisive, Scotland has reminded us we can have civil disagreement without resorting to violence.

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