As the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement reaches its 25th anniversary, a new report for the Unit by Alan Whysall, Honorary Senior Research Associate, asks whether this is a time for constitutional change, and assesses its future.
The Agreement at 25 builds on two earlier Constitution Unit texts: the Report of the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland of May 2021, and a Unit discussion paper on Northern Ireland’s Political Future, of May 2022.
At the Agreement’s quarter-centenary, its principal political institutions have been in suspension for a year, leaving Northern Ireland effectively without government. Political discourse has polarised, notably over Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol. And the debate on constitutional issues, whether Northern Ireland remains in the UK or joins a united Ireland, has sharply intensified.
The report focuses first on the debate on the Union versus Irish unity; but concludes that early constitutional change is unlikely, and in any event not calculated to resolve Northern Ireland’s key current problems. The report urges that serious and committed efforts are necessary, not least from London, to revive the Agreement and the promise it once offered. Otherwise much of the progress we have seen under the Agreement may be in danger.
Union or unity?
The Agreement is clear: whether Northern Ireland remains in the United Kingdom, or joins a united Irish state, is a matter for consent (by simple majorities) in each part of the island, and no one else.Continue reading