Posted By: February 19, 2024


Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus

“Is this yet another example of abysmal Tory ignorance or all part of the Tory Big Lie about Ireland?” —Fr. Sean McManus.

Heaton-Harris is asked to correct unity poll remark

Secretary of state urged to amend parliamentary record after giving wrong information on outcome

John Manley. Political Correspondent. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, February 19, 2024.

THE secretary of state has been asked to amend the official Westminster record after giving MPs incorrect information about the outcome of a border poll.

Chris Heaton-Harris recently told the House of Commons that under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, constitutional change would only occur if both nationalists and unionists in the north supported it.

Mr. Heaton-Harris is responsible for identifying the circumstances under which a border poll will take place.

Under the 1998 accord, concurrent referendums will occur both north and south and will require a simple majority to pass.

There have been consistent calls for greater clarity about the circumstances that would trigger a border poll.

However, earlier this month in the House of Commons, Mr. Heaton-Harris claimed that both a majority of nationalists and unionists were needed to secure constitutional change.

Addressing the potential for a united Ireland, he told MPs: “…it is very important to outline the parts of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement that allow for all things to happen, and any change would absolutely depend on the consent of both communities at the time.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood wrote to the secretary of state pointing out his error and asking him to correct the parliamentary record.

He reminded Mr. Heaton-Harris that under the terms of the Agreement, constitutional change will be determined “by a majority of people in Northern Ireland”.

“It is for the people north and south to determine their own constitutional future – no one else,” the Foyle MP wrote.

Mr. Eastwood’s letter concludes: “I trust you will want to correct the record at the earliest opportunity.”

The House of Commons rules make it clear that the record must be corrected as soon as is practicable.

“It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity,” the Westminster website states.

The Irish News asked the Northern Ireland Office on Friday whether Mr. Heaton-Harris planned to correct the record but received no clear indication.

An NIO statement said the secretary of state had responded to Mr. Eastwood “via private correspondence.”

“The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and the NI Act 1998 are explicit that any change to the constitutional status of NI would require the consent of a simple majority of its people,” the statement said.

“The UK government is absolutely clear that there is no basis to suggest that at present a majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to separate from the United Kingdom.”