The Constitutional Significance of the People of Northern Ireland
Oran Doyle, Aileen McHarg and Jo Murkens (eds), 'The Brexit Challenge for Ireland and the United Kingdom: Constitutions under Pressure', CUP, Forthcoming
23 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2020
Date Written: July 1, 2020
The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement had to address a fundamental fissure in constitutional thought on the island of Ireland; when it came to the legitimacy of the island’s constitutional arrangements, was this dependent upon one group of constituent power holders, or two? The question had been contested since partition, and this paper explores how the conundrum was resolved through the use of John Hume’s concept of a people of Northern Ireland, who would have the ability to determine whether to remain within the United Kingdom (UK) or join a unified Ireland. This concept might have sufficed to tackle a tricky issue in the 1998 negotiations, but it remained all-but-unexplored in the years after, until the UK’s voters backed its withdrawal from the European Union (EU) in June 2016. This outcome changed the debate on the (re)unification of Ireland, and necessitates a new understanding of this group of constituent power holders. To reflect the 1998 Agreement, the people of Northern Ireland also gained special protections in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement. Finally, alongside these developments, the UK Government’s application of immigration rules and ascription of nationality to the people of Northern Ireland called the nature of this status into question. This article considers how the use of this term is changing in light of these pressures and the impact of these shifts for the debate over Northern Ireland’s constitutional future.
Keywords: Brexit, Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, Principle of Consent, Birthright
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