The constitutional position of Northern Ireland has always been problematic. On the one hand there is a sizeable minority (nationalists) who wish to be in a united Ireland and not have the British Queen as their head of state. They do not consider themselves British but Irish. On the other hand the majority (Unionists) wish the country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not to lose those last three words. They do not wish to be subjected to rule from Dublin or be part of a state where Catholics are in the majority. This section of the Good Friday Agreement sought to address the concerns of both communities.
To complicate the issue, the Constitition of the Republic of Ireland had two articles which, in effect, laid claim to Northern Ireland. Annex B to this section of the agreement made provision for a change in those articles.
The British Government, having previously made plain that they have no selfish interest in Nortern Ireland, here agreed (Annex A) that the status of the statelet would be decided by the democratic will of its inhabitants.
Text of the agreement
1. Participants endorse the commitment made by the British and Irish Governments that, in a new British-Irish Agreement replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they will:
(i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;
(ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right to self-determination on the basis of consent,
freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland;
(iii) acknowledge that while a substantial section of the people in Norhern Ireland share the legitimate wish of a majority of the island of Ireland for a united Ireland, the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would be wrong to make any change in that status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people;
(iv) affirm that if, in the future, the people of the island of Ireland exercise their right of self-determination on the basis set out in section (i) and (ii) above to bring about a united Ireland, it will be a binding obligation on both Governments to introduce and support in their respective Parliments legislation to give effect to that wish;
(v) affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities;
(vi) recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.
ANNEX A: Draft Clauses/Schedules for incorporation in British Legislation
1. (1) It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.
(2) But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliment such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.
2. The Government of Ireland Act 1920 is repealed; and this Act shall have effect notwithstanding any other previous enactment.
Polls of the purpose of Section 1
1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified on the order.
2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.
3. The Secretary of State shall not make any order under paragraph 1 earlier that seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this Schedule.
4. (Remaining paragraphs along the lines of paragraphs 2 and 3 of existing Schedule 1 to 1973 Act.)
ANNEX B: Irish Government Draft Legislation to amend the constitution
Add to Article 29 the following sections
7.1 The State may consent to be bound by the British-Irish Agreement done at Belfast on the day of 1998, hereinafter called the Agreement.
7.2 Any institution established by or under the Agreement may exercise the powers and functions thereby conferred on it in respect of all or any part of the island of Ireland nothwithstanding any other provision of this Consitution conferring a like power or function on any person or any organ of State appointed under or created or established by or under this Constitution. Any power or function conferred on such an institution in relation to the settlement or resolution of disputes or controversies may be in addition to or in substitution for any like power or function conferred by this Constitution on any such person or organ of State as aforesaid.
7.3 If the Government declare that the State has been obliged, pursuant to the Agreement, to give effect to the amendment of this Constitution referred to therein, then, nothwithstanding Article 46 hereof, this Constitution shall be amended as follows:
The following articles shall be substituted for Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish text:
It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with the law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.
3.1 It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island. Until then, the laws enacted by the Parliament established by this Constitution shall have like area and extent of application as the laws enacted by the Parliament that existed immediately before the coming into operation of this Constitution.
3.2Insitutions with executive powers and functions that are shared between those jurisdictions may be established by their respective responsible authorities for stated purposes and may exercise powers and functions in respect of all or any part of the island.
3.8 The State may exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction in accordance with the generally recognised principles of international law.
7.4 If a declaration under this section is made, this subsection and subsection 3, other than the amendment of this Constitution effected thereby, and subsection 5 of this section shall be ommitted from every official text of this Constitution published thereafter, but notwithstanding such omission this section shall continue to have the force of law.
7.5 If such a declaration is not made within twelve months of this section being added to this Constitution or such longer period as may be provided for by law, this section shall cease to have effect and shall be omitted from every official text of this Constitution published thereafter.
<Declaration of Support
Good Friday Agreement Contents