O’Leary’s Dalriada proposal keeps Northern Ireland and Scotland in the UK and the EU

The political scientist Professor Brendan O’Leary is one of the strongest supporters of power sharing in Northern Ireland and an deviser of political solutions to ethnic conflict throughout the world. On leave from Pennsylvania University and an old boy of St Macnissi’s Garron Tower, he has produced the Dalriada Document – inspired by the ancient North Antrim- west of Scotland kingdom. The Dalriada document is an ingenious attempt to square the circle of keeping Scotland and Northern Ireland in both the UK and the EU. I also link to a dialogue Brendan initiated with among many others, myself.

In my view his solution stretches to breaking point any existing concept of the UK  as a “ union state” that  Westminster politicians will recognise whether or not they are on the side of Leave or Remain. For one thing it envisages basically different trading relationships for England and Scotland and Northern Ireland and different laws governing them. I cannot imagine it on the table in front of Theresa May and Enda Kenny today.  Behind these ideas lies an obvious truth: that it is no more in the interests of Ireland – and even of long term unity –  to have a hard breakup of the UK, than it is to have  hard Brexit

But hey, who has any better ideas and who knows where this tortuous Brexit pilgrimage may lead?    The Dalriada document  is a contribution to flexible thinking about a new issue that could divided us for another generation. There may be something in Brendan’s ideas of associated status that politicians may eventually consider.

Here is a shortened version of his argument in an LSE blog  (The Dalriada Document significantly revises the LSE blog-post with more detailed institutional proposals, which  are fully EU-compliant, which Brendan O’Leary says was not the case with his first thoughts).”


  I suggest that the now vacated UK Commissioner’s role could be kept, but the appointment could be rotated between Scotland and Northern Ireland, in a 3: 1 ratio over time, reflecting Scotland’s greater population. The Commissioner would be nominated by the relevant government and appointed by the UK government. (A judge to serve in the European Court of Justice could be nominated in the same way.) The retention of one Commissioner and their MEPs would give Scotland and Northern Ireland a say in agenda-setting and in law-making. And it would remove any UK ministerial veto over EU decision-making.

The future role of the Westminster parliament would be to process EU law that applies to Northern Ireland and Scotland—strictly as an input-output machine—thereby ensuring that Scotland and Northern Ireland have the same EU law,  and that the Union is retained.  It would be up to Westminster to decide which components  of EU law they applied to England and Wales—a convenience that may be helpful in dealing with the repercussions of what has just occurred.

All of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales would be an internal passport free-zone. However, one negative consequence of this compromise would be a hard customs border in the Irish Sea. But that, I think, would be better than one across the land-mass of Ireland.

Another effect would be a hard customs border between Scotland and England. If all of Ireland and Scotland remain in the EU there cannot be a single market in the UK, as defined by the EU, and therefore a customs barrier will have to exist. But note that a hard customs border will materialise in any case if a Scottish referendum led to independence.

Ireland, North and South, and Scotland could not join the Schengen agreement because that would mean that England and Wales would lose the control over immigration which was emphasised by the leave side in the referendum. But then, they are not part of Schengen at present, and there is no evidence that a majority in any of the three countries wants to be.