Doubts cast over need for unity referendum in the south

Posted By: October 13, 2021


Barra McGrory said the requirement for concurrent referendums North and South was a “myth.”


John Manley.Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, October 13, 202


The Republic may not need to hold a Border Poll if voters in the north have already backed Irish unification, legal experts have said.


Former director of public prosecutions Barra McGrory said the requirement for concurrent referendums north and south was a “myth”.


There has been a long-held assumption that under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the electorate on both sides of the border must provide a mandate for unification.


The 1998 accord refers to “the people on the island” exercising “their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, north and south, to bring about a united Ireland”.


However, experts suggest the agreement has been widely misinterpreted, as it does not specifically say how a mandate should be sought in the Republic.


Mr. McGrory, who is a queen’s counsel, and is expected to be appointed as a senior counsel in the South, told the BBC: “There only has to be one [Referendum] in The North.


“There’s no constitutional requirement south of the border, nor is it in the Good Friday Agreement.


“I’m always surprised by some of the articles I read in the media that there have to be referendums north and south on Irish unity.”


His view was endorsed in the Republic by Trinity College Dublin academic Dr. David Kenny.


However, both legal experts agree that there were probably good political reasons for the south to hold a referendum, as opposed to voting in the Oireachteas.


“As a matter of legal principle, there is a good case that the bare act of consenting to unification could be done without one,” Dr. Kenny said.


The lawyers’ doubt about the requirement for a second poll in The South centers on the outcome of the 1998 referendum, coupled with Article 3 of the agreement, which states: it is “the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognizing that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island.”


But Dr Kenny is one of a number of academics from Trinity, Queens, Ulster University, and University College London to suggest that while it is arguable there is a case for not proceeding with a vote in the Republic, there are sound political and other non-unity constitutional reasons for having one, including giving British citizens in the north rights to vote in presidential elections and constitutional referendums.