Unity debate – the element of choice

Answering the constitutional question

Sir, – One of the intriguing dimensions of debates about the future of Ireland is the framing. Although this difficulty has eased, thanks in part to those joining the conversation, it remains a challenge.

The Belfast Agreement rests the status of Northern Ireland on consent. People have a choice. All agreed, politically and legally.

After Brexit that involves automatic re-entry to the EU. A tempting prospect, you would think.

Why trouble you then with this letter? Because there is a stubborn reluctance to accept basic and mundane realities.


A tendency persists to paint those raising these matters as troublemakers, people who deserve the backlash they get, the whispered and privately expressed implication. The problem with this attitude is simply stated.

You cannot credibly acknowledge the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement next year without facing what the “principle of consent” means now.

In particular, you should not expect the beleaguered population of Northern Ireland to avoid talking about the practical mechanism that will offer a choice: a referendum.

The absurdity of immersing the island in the language of consent, but never contemplating asking people, must end.

Like many others, I would like to answer the constitutional question in my lifetime. – Yours, etc,


School of Law,

Queen’s University