Has McGuinness Breached the Good Friday Agreement?

The Deputy First Minister seems to have changed the Sinn Fein position of achieving a United Ireland by 2016,  amending their pledge to that of referendum in 2016 or shortly after, in an article in today’s Irish Examiner Martin states

 “It just seems to me to be a sensible timing. It would be on the question of whether or not the people of the Six Counties wish to retain the link with what is described as the United Kingdom, or be part of a united Ireland. It could take place anytime between 2016 or 2020-21,”

However as the article goes on to point out the decision to hold such a poll does not rest with the Assembly or Executive even with DUP agreement, but with the Secretarty of State, and if remaining true to the Agreement it can only be called when certain conditions prevail, to refresh your memory here is the relevant sections-

1. (1) It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.

(2) But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland. 

1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.

2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 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.

 The onus is therefore on Sinn Fein to convince the SoS that such a majority is likely to exist within the next 4 years, an uphill task considering the most generous reading has a Nationalist vote at an average 42% (a level which hasn’t changed for the last decade) and many indications that many of these voters would not vote for a United Ireland when the time came.  Therefore know all these facts as well as any of us do, is there not a case that raising possibility of a referendum is false, destabilising and in breach of the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement that Sinn Fein negotiated?

  • iluvni

    Will it state ‘six counties’ or ‘Northern Ireland’ on the referendum ballot?

  • TwilightoftheProds


    They could easily get round that by asking ‘do you want to be part of a state that is breaking up or one that is going to be in penury for decades?’

  • Count Eric Bisto von Granules

    It might run along the lines of the Scottish referendum, where there will be a Devo Max option. If there is, he would get the vast majority of nationalists and some of the unionist vote.
    Northern Ireland might then be pushed down the road to independence, because the english would not continue to support the province that was seen to take the money but not contribute.
    Then the choice for the electorate in 10 – 15 years might be unify with the south (some federal arrangement) or much lower living standards as an independent state. Given these 2 options, unionists may be prepared to do the unthinkable.

    Unification by degree

  • Framer

    The concessions in the GFA were quite considerable. Ten year gaps became seven while a poll was to be held only if a majority for a united Ireland was notioned:

    Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 (which came into effect after the 8 March Border Poll)

    Section 1 – “It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of Her Majesty’s dominions and of the United Kingdom, and it is hereby affirmed that in no event will Northern Ireland or any part of it cease to be part of Her Majesty’s dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act.”

    “Schedule 1
    1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 of this Act on a date specified in the order, but the date so specified shall not be earlier than 9th March 1983 or earlier than ten years after the date of a previous poll under this Schedule.

  • JH

    Going along with the fantasy that it will be the people here that call the constitutional shots here in the next few years, and that if a referendum was held without the “Secretary of State”‘s sanction it wouldn’t be binding, I seriously doubt he would use a straw poll like NILT.

    He might look at the share of the popular vote between nationalist and unionist parties and think that actually, given the timing, it might not be unjustified.

  • “Has McGuinness Breached the Good Friday Agreement?”

    Answer, of course not because the ‘Constitutional Issues’ section of the GFA is an international agreement between the Irish and the British governments. It is not part of of the “multi-party agreement” which makes up the rest of the document. Which as far as I remember Sinn Féin didn’t sign anyway and neither did the DUP for obvious reasons. So in fact he couldn’t breach the articles you refer to even if he wanted to.

    Skipping onto your “uphill task”, considering there was only approx 30k of a difference between the combined unionist and nationalist vote last time around it doesn’t seem all that insurmountable and I think the unionist vote dropped under 50%. So in effect we have a unionist plurality, not a majority, and in that situation SF can legitimately argue it’s all to play for. Anyhow, I though unionist want a referendum to bury the issues for a few decades. Don’t tell me they are beginning to get worried?

  • HeinzGuderian

    I can’t wait to vote to join a European Satellite State that is in debt up to its oxters,and has given away what little sovereignty it had.

    Ayeee,Unionists are worried all right…………worried that One day the shinners may come up with an intelligent idea ? 😉

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Actually, one of the best arguments for a united Ireland would be to get Ulster’s Protestants involved in running this rainy little island of ours. Increasingly, I’m of the opinion that they are the only people on this island who possess the backbone and the seriousness necessary to make a success of a sovereign state.

    I wish they’d put their genuinely remarkable qualities – industry, courage, sheer thran-ness – to the service of Ireland. What a boon it would be to the rest of us, who are rather short on such qualities right now.

    The sad irony is that some of these very same qualities have a destructive effect on unionists themselves, within the context of the Northern Ireland state, as they are put to the service of maintaining a state that was flawed since inception.

    I don’t suppose that’ll win many unionists over, mind you.

  • Mick Fealty

    Quite so Ulick, in almost every respect.. Not so much a breach then as a delightful wander off the garden path?

  • andnowwhat

    Perrsonally I read this as Marty aying to the growing disillusioned element within republicanism. I am only speaking of my own recent experience but dissenting tones are spoken off loudly, very unlike a few years ago.

    The peace rode in on the back of the boom and may have created an illusion of attatchment to same.

    Again, speaking from my own experience, W Belfast looks and feels worse than it has for decades. There is also much disquiet about how certain issues have been handled this last few summers, a disbalance, a falling a ba k to the old ways by the police and the shinners poor record on addreszing such issues.

    If Marty thinks he is fooling anyone, he isn’t. Pity the SDLP are in such bad shape at the moment. Tbeir day could have come

  • PaulT

    Quite so Ulick, in almost every respect.. Not so much a breach then as a delightful wander off the garden path?

    indeed mick just when mummy is shouting at Alex for wandering off the garden path, really, those kids are a handful, but, just a second, mummy seems more concerned about Alex wandering of the path!!! does she love Alex more!! thats not nice, mummy doesn’t care about Martin.

  • weidm7

    I would like to see far more done to accomodate Protestant people and culture in Ireland before any such referendum is held. I wouldn’t like to see Catholics force unification on the protestants, I’d much prefer if a large percentage of them willingly voted for it.

  • In a recent court case, taken by the Irish medium secondary school, Coláiste Feirste, against the Department of Education, regarding the transport of schoolchildren from Downpatrick to Belfast to carry on their Irish medium education after primary level, the lawyers for the SF minister argued that the Good Friday Agreement was only an aspirational document, without legal import.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Arise Sir Marty

  • IJP


    You mightn’t be far off. The most accurate referendum question would be something like:

    Where do you wish ultimate sovereignty for this part of the world to lie?

    A. London
    B. Frankfurt am Main

  • Self-delusion clearly remains the cheap heroin of Northern Nationalist politics, as it has been for the past 91 years…

  • GoldenFleece

    “I wish they’d put their genuinely remarkable qualities – industry, courage, sheer thran-ness – to the service of Ireland. What a boon it would be to the rest of us, who are rather short on such qualities right now.”

    Billy Pilgrim, nah in an United Ireland scenario we will be called West Brits and traitors for saying kinds words about the English and not aligning ourselves to the Irish culture. Then other southerners and southern media will call us instranscient, primitive and backward for not towing the big political party lines, especially on Europe.

    There is a reason why people of the ROI call us “Northerners” and not “Irish”.

  • PaulT

    GoldenFleece, thats a massive auld chip on your shoulder, not to mention an inflated sense of importance, I suspect you would be upset if they just carried on as normal

    Coming across very much as “the only unionist in the village” to paraphase Little Britain

  • Alan N/Ards


    Is GoldenFleece really that far off the mark?

  • GoldenFleece

    PaulT, no chip, just observation. Some Irish people call Irish people West Brits as a negative term and traitors as well – this is a fact, in an UI scenario I can’t see why unionists would be immune to this negative term. Indeed we represent what extreme Irish nationalists hate the most.

    Political nationalism all around the world (and I include British nationalism in this) has a very very poor record of protecting minorities in their country.

  • RyanAdams

    Goldfleece touches on an important issue that’s never really brought up on Slugger, but also appeared during the Irish presidential election – What is exactly is the attitude of the republic towards re-unification, and indeed a massive financial burden?

  • Neil


    No recent polls to my knowledge. This is all I’ve ever found, from back in the halcyon days of ’06.

  • RyanAdams

    Interesting remarks in that article with regard to the parties in the republics position on a united Ireland;

    “Support for Irish unity is a feature of all major political parties in the Republic of Ireland”

    To flip a common phrase often directed at the SDLP and used by Chris Donnelly on ‘The Adams Gamble (http://sluggerotoole.com/2010/11/16/the-adams-gamble/);

    And what exactly are you doing North of the border to achieve that?

  • Billy Pilgrim


    Unionists aren’t ‘west Brits.’ They’re just Brits. The ‘west Brit’ term is a tautology when applied to unionists. It only works on someone who claims to be nationalist.

    ‘Then other southerners and southern media will call us instransigent, primitive and backward for not towing the big political party lines, especially on Europe.’

    The southern establishment will kiss unionist arse for years to come, because unionists scare the southern establishment out of its wits. If you’ve been following recent events, you’ll have noticed that there is no bottom to the cowardice and cravenness of that establishment. They have surrendered their very sovereignty with a whimper. It seems the courage of Ireland is in the north. One pines for a Paisley-like figure who would roar ‘No Surrender!’

    ‘Indeed we represent what extreme Irish nationalists hate the most.’

    Unionists reserve their greatest hatred not for nationalists but for the Lundy, and nationalists are no different. One can respect the enemy at the gates, who carries his banner openly. It’s the whispering traitor within that one must fear and despise the most. Back in the 1970s, Ian Paisley remarked that he believed nationalists had a ‘sneaking regard’ for him, and I think he was right, bizarrely enough. But nationalists have no such ‘sneaking regard’ for, say, Conor Cruise O’Brien.

    There is only one section of the population on this island that genuinely has something to fear from a united Ireland, and it ain’t northern unionists. It’s a corrupt and treasonous subsection of the southern establishment.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    ‘What is exactly is the attitude of the republic towards re-unification, and indeed a massive financial burden?’

    There will only be a referendum on unity in the south, in the event of a Yes vote in a northern referendum. It’s hard to envisage the southern electorate voting No in such circumstances, but of course, one never knows.

    I’d say that there is no single attitude, that across the state, there are lots of different dynamics.

    The first thing to understand about the southern state is the extent to which the game is rigged in favour of the underhand, inside-track sleveen. Most people who are doing well are tied in with the rotten, rigged game, and so are loath to rock the boat.

    The establishment parties and the major centres of economic power (and the media they control) oppose a united Ireland, as it might threaten their pre-eminence. These are natural allies of unionism, in that they are strongly committed to the status quo. They may, formally, be in favour, but in reality, they do everything possible to undermine the idea.

    Meanwhile, many of the people who most desire change and might otherwise be best able to bring it about, are in Australia, or wherever else in the Diaspora.

    The best thing about a united Ireland would be the opportunity to start again, by replacing the two failed states.

    One shouldn’t forget that Irish republicanism is the creation of Belfast Protestants; and that Belfast’s republican period of the late 18th century, when it was ‘the Athens of the north,’ and giants like Drennan, Hope, Neilson, Orr, the McCrackens and Russell walked its streets, represents the pinnacle not only of Belfast’s intellectual history, but of Ireland’s.

    Irish republicanism badly needs the input of that community again, because Irish Catholics have made an awful mess of republicanism without them.

    Again, not an argument that’s likely to persuade many Ulster Protestants away from unionism, I know. It’d be nice to be able to offer a land of milk and honey, but right now, I can’t see what republicanism can offer Ulster’s Protestants other than a role of complete indispensability.

  • weidm7

    In reality, the unionist parties would be in a very strong position in a united Ireland, they’d be big enough to decide the government, meaning they’d likely get every guarantee they wanted, as opposed to having to work with Sinn Féin or the British government to get half of what they want.

  • JH

    Right on Billy Pilgrim.

    I might have said it before on here but you should definitely get Hope’s autobiography out of the Linen Hall if you can. It’s a good read. Meanders a bit but some of the stories of old Belfast and Dublin are wild.

    Excellent analysis though. Think of the things we wouldn’t have had on the island of Ireland had we never been partitioned; civil rights abuses on both parts of the island, maltreatment of deserters during the Emergency, out-sourcing of our morality to the Catholic Church, 80 years of bitterness and bloodshed… all because we’d have had the moderating influence of Ulster (and other Irish) Protestants within a national Government.

  • gréagóir o frainclín

    McGuinness’ remarks were ludicrous. A United Ireland is well out of the question now given the economic situation of the island with it’s 2 dependant entities.

    BTW, has anybody seen the BBC2 programme called ‘The Estate’…. not a good depiction of the Protestant work ethic, morelike