Following the report of its Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland, the Unit will in the coming weeks publish a discussion paper on the wider political options for Northern Ireland. In the first part of this blog, Alan Whysall, the author of the paper, sets it in the current political context, and discusses the public policy challenges facing Northern Ireland. The second part, which will be published later today, considers longer term destinies, and what can be done to encourage more realistic debate, and ultimately constructive politics, in Northern Ireland.
Politics will resume in Northern Ireland after the summer in deep conflict. But much of the political debate is totemic, neglecting the realities of public policy in Northern Ireland now.
The unreality of the debate reflects the unwinding of constructive politics, such as was seen in the better days following the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement of 1998.
And the increasing talk of broader constitutional destinies is cast in vague and general terms, reminiscent of the Brexit debate; on one side, it often obscures serious issues that constitutional change would raise; on the other, it takes little account of the changing nature of Northern Ireland society.
The discussion paper
The discussion paper will aim, in a neutral spirit, to point up pressing immediate issues that need to be analysed and acted on; and key aspects of the debate about potential destinies.
And it will ask how a spirit of constructive political endeavour can be restored.
Is it practical to think of a renewed Agreement?
The paper will offer some tentative answers to the questions it raises, but it really does need to spark a discussion. Political tensions may once again reach breaking point before very long: and answers to the questions may be needed.
Finally, the paper asks who is to drive the effort towards changed debate and politics. The British and Irish governments have often sought to keep the Northern Ireland political system on the rails, and to impart new impetus. But at present their differences may mean they are challenged in doing so.
So the paper also asks whether others in Northern Ireland can help.
Dealing with the here and now
The Northern Ireland Protocol
The Northern Ireland Protocol looms over Northern Ireland politics. Brexit has been profoundly disruptive. It was the first major change in the arrangements established after the Good Friday Agreement that lacked the cross-community support by which the Agreement was reached – indeed Northern Ireland voted Remain. Hard Brexit inevitably meant more borders somewhere in or around Ireland. The Protocol is the outworking.Continue reading