Belfast Telegraph

Queen's professor Colin Harvey proposes date for Irish unity polls

Calls for referendum on Irish unity have ramped up since the Brexit referedum
Calls for referendum on Irish unity have ramped up since the Brexit referedum

A Queen's University law professor has proposed a date for two polls on Irish unity

The academic said votes on the issue should be held in Northern Ireland and the Republic on May 22, 2023 - 25 years on from the referendum ratifying the Good Friday Agreement.

He explained this would give both governments time to allow for "the required levels of preparation".

Speaking at a meeting of members of the Franco-British Lawyers Society Colloquium in Belfast earlier this week, Prof Harvey said the Brexit vote has opened up a new constitutional path for the island of Ireland.

“Making use of the arrangements to test the principle of consent/right to self-determination – at the appropriate time and with proper preparation – should provoke no one. Planning has commenced; governments will catch up,” he said.

“The entitlement to hold a view on whether that outcome is a good or bad thing is hard wired into our supposed ‘new beginning’ here. The key is that constitutional conversations are guided by the values of the Good Friday Agreement, and that new configurations follow informed dialogue, respectful debate and proper planning.”

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has to call a border poll if they think it is likely a majority of people would vote in favour of a united Ireland.

Prof Harvey said both unity polls would be organised within the framework of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and include setting up a Citizens' Assembly to discuss the issue and installing a "Minister for reunification of Ireland".

“Such an approach would end speculation about the criteria and required evidence that will trigger such a step – but will not end disagreement and challenge on, for example, the question to be asked and who will be eligible to vote," he said.

"Both governments – through a new Joint Declaration and associated domestic law and policy changes – would set and implement the framework, following extensive, wide and deep consultation and engagement – including, but not limited to, political parties."

"The academic has outlined his arguments on the issue in a paper entitled "Navigating Brexit - Icebergs Ahead? UK, Irish, French and EU perspectives".

Since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, calls for a referendum on Irish unity from Sinn Fein have ramped up.

Earlier this month, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald such a poll should only be called after the appropriate "spade work" deciding what a united Ireland would look like has been carried out.

She said this planning would take around two years to complete and called on the Irish Government to convene a forum to discuss the issue.

“We need to talk about Ireland post-Brexit, we need to talk about the border, we need to talk about partition, we need to talk about the unity referendum," she said.

“And we need to do the spade work because I think it’s entirely reasonable that people would say, ‘Well, what does this new Ireland look like in terms of human rights, civil rights, system of governance, but also in terms of bread and butter, people’s livelihoods and the prosperity of the island?’"

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