Slugger O'Toole

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Border Poll: “We may just call your bluff on this one Mitchel…”

Tue 22 January 2013, 1:58pm

So Arlene Foster tells Stephen Nolan:

“If we have the border poll then that instability goes away and, in actual fact, what we have is a very clear validation of the union and that’s something we’re looking at at the moment. So I’m saying to Mitchel McLaughlin and I’m saying to him very clearly, ‘We may just call your bluff on this one Mitchel, and be very careful what you wish for’.”

Hmmmm… Wee bit of dancing on the brink there from Arlene, yet not quite diving in… I suspect if there had been any clear will within the party to shove Sinn Fein into a border poll, we’d have had a clearer answer than that.  A ministerial slip is more likely. And more reflective of the sustained pressure the party’s been under for the last two months, than a new party policy.Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 13.35.09

As noted before, legislation makes clear, it won’t fall to the DUP or to Sinn Fein but the Secretary of State to call one. And then only when certain, albeit loosely defined, conditions are fulfilled. So to repeat what I said on Sunday’s This Week programme this is a useful fiction, but it’s little more than that.

If Mr Adams  is asking for something he knows he cannot get, Ms Foster knows it too. So tell me again, what has OFMdFM done in the last six months?

Or, as our friend Mr Martin put it back in December, is this yet another “distraction from the fact that politicians are not delivering on the issues that actually make a difference to the quality of people’s lives?”

Update: Secretary of State says, “Aye, right!”

“Given the state of opinion in Northern Ireland, which is clearly expressed in election results and opinion polls, the Government has no present plans to call such a poll.

“We believe that political attention is really better focused elsewhere. It is crucial that political leaders here concentrate on working together on pressing economic and social issues, including the rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy and building a genuinely shared society, rather than being diverted into divisive constitutional debates.”

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Comments (105)

  1. babyface finlayson (profile) says:

    Is there a constitutional expert in the house?
    It seems to me that the referendum at the time of the GFA established the consent of the majority in the south so there is no need for a further referendum there. They have agreed to accept the will of the people in the north.
    It is the mention of ‘concurrent’ agreement which Alias highlights, that confuses me.

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  2. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Article 47 of Bunreacht Na hEireann governs the means of changing the Constitution: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amendments_to_the_Constitution_of_Ireland#Referendum

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  3. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Alias,

    What is it in the treaty or any other aspect of the law that specifically requires a referendum in the RoI rather than having the Irish government affirm consent for the country to be reunified on behalf of the people ? I’m asking this because the treaty only seems to stipulate a referendum in NI.

    I am not disputing any aspect of the parallel consent part.

    The government has no authority under the Constitution to decide if unity should occur or not.

    Article 3 of the constitution says that unity should happen if “democratically expressed” in both jurisidiction but fails to clarify that this means a referendum. (compare with article 46).

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  4. DC (profile) says:

    Comrade, Mick above has answered your question.

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  5. Alias (profile) says:

    “Art 3.1 says change must be “democratically expressed in both jurisdictions of the island”. No reference to timing I’m afraid.” – MF

    Not in that Article, but that wasn’t the claim. The claim was that the Treaty was ratified by referendum in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and that the State is bound by it. That treaty then forms part of the Constitution, just as all of the other treaties listed under Article 29 form part of it. In other words, it doesn’t have to be written into the Constitution, just as the Lisbon Treaty et al isn’t written into it but still forms part of it. Therefore, the constitutional refernce to timing is the explicit reference to timing given in the Treaty (AKA the British-Irish Agreement). This is constitutionally binding on the State, and it must be concurrent, not consecutive.

    Article 29.7: The State may consent to be bound by the British-Irish Agreement done at Belfast on the 10th day of April, 1998, hereinafter called the Agreement.

    “What is it in the treaty or any other aspect of the law that specifically requires a referendum in the RoI rather than having the Irish government affirm consent for the country to be reunified on behalf of the people ? I’m asking this because the treaty only seems to stipulate a referendum in NI.” – CS

    It is for the people to decide, not for the State to decide. The people have not given their consent to the government, so it can’t be presummed that they have. Article 6 states that “All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people, whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.”

    Article 6 is the reason why we had the 19th Amendment and a litany of others. Essentially, the government exercises on behalf of the people the power that the people have granted to it in the Constitution but cannot exercise any power not granted to it such as the right to annex a foreign territory. The Supreme Court has extended this restriction by various precedents, e.g. the Crotty judgement.

    “Article 3 of the constitution says that unity should happen if “democratically expressed” in both jurisidiction but fails to clarify that this means a referendum. (compare with article 46).” – CS

    By what other means could it be democratically expressed other than by referendum? There are no other means – particularly where they alter the Constitution as the changes envisioned in the British-Irish Agreement would do.

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