The Sinn Fein manifesto’s mention of a referendum on Irish unity encouraged me to revisit the Good Friday Agreement to check what it said on the matter. The Agreement says the Secretary of State can call a border poll “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.” Once a poll is held, another cannot be organised for at least seven years. So once they’ve finished criticising him for – in their view – not keeping to pledges on capital spending, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness will have to do their best to persuade Owen Paterson of the need for a referendum.
Could Sinn Féin actually believe that it is “likely” that “a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland” at this point? Is this more politics of delusion?
Apparently not. [Just another symptom of political psychosis then? - Ed]. Or constitutional illiteracy…
As David Gordon reports, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd explained on Radio Ulster
Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd told BBC Radio Ulster that this vote would be on an all-island basis.
Asked if a referendum result for unity would be binding despite the Belfast’s Agreement’s requirement for consent in Northern Ireland, Mr O’Dowd said: “An all-island referendum would have precedence.
“The people of Ireland have a right to choose their own destiny. That is my view.”
He also stated: “Surely the people who live on the island of Ireland have a right to decide the destiny of what political future and make-up the island of Ireland has.”
Leaving aside the fact that following through on that logic would mean the annexation of Northern Ireland by the Republic, a separate state on the island, against the wishes of a majority here.
Such ‘logic’ is also completely contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the 1998 Agreement.
1. The participants endorse the commitment made by the British and Irish Governments that, in a new British-Irish Agreement replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they will:
(i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;
(ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland; [added emphasis throughout]
(iii) acknowledge that while a substantial section of the people in Northern Ireland share the legitimate wish of a majority of the people of the island of Ireland for a united Ireland, the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people;
(iv) affirm that if, in the future, the people of the island of Ireland exercise their right of self-determination on the basis set out in sections (i) and (ii) above to bring about a united Ireland, it will be a binding obligation on both Governments to introduce and support in their respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish;
Or do Sinn Féin now want to tear up that 1998 Agreement? [added link]
Update Today’s Irish News notes John O’Dowd’s hasty retreat.
However, speaking to The Irish News last night, Mr O’Dowd moved to clarify his earlier comments.
“Ideally we would like to see an all-Ireland referendum,” he said.
“Every citizen should be equal and so that is Sinn Féin’s preferred position.
“But we will work within the confines of the Good Friday Agreement.”
[Just another symptom of political psychosis then? - Ed]. Indeed.