The Constitutional Politics of a United Ireland
Oran Doyle, Aileen McHarg, and Jo Murkens (eds.), The Brexit Challenge for Ireland and the United Kingdom: Constitutions under Pressure (Cambridge University Press, 2021)
24 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2020
Date Written: September 1, 2020
The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union renders a united Ireland more likely than before. Although Northern Ireland could be incorporated into the existing unitary Irish state without constitutional amendment, unification is likely to be accompanied by significant constitutional change or a new constitution. In this chapter, we explore the modalities and implications of amending Ireland’s constitution to make a newly unified state more sensitive to the concerns and aspirations of those from the Ulster Scots and Ulster British traditions. We first explore how devolved, consociational government for Northern Ireland could continue within a united Ireland, politically empowering those from the Ulster Scots and Ulster British traditions. This might increase the sympathy of those from that tradition for the new state. But we also show how the operation of devolution could presage a divergence of interests that leads to significant tensions between the national institutions and the devolved institutions, and within the national institutions themselves. We then identify the many provisions of the current Irish constitution that posit a notion of Irish identity exclusionary of those from the Ulster Scots and Ulster British traditions. Amendment of these constitutional provisions is surely a sine qua non for increased sympathy for the unified State. Many of these provisions, however, manifest and reflect indicia of Irish identity dearly held by many if not most citizens of the current Irish state. Their removal—at least without detailed consideration of how the Constitution might be amended to respect multiple identities—risks reducing the sympathy of existing citizens for the unified State. We conclude by exploring how the various constitutional changes considered would be interpreted and amendable after unification.
Keywords: Irish constitutional law; Northern Ireland; devolution; unification
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