A Letter from Ireland
A Junior Minister in the British Government, Steve Baker, floated the idea that a future referendum on Irish Unity would require of supermajority of 60% to pass. Mr. Baker qualified his comments, later saying that he was speaking in a personal capacity.
However, this was no informal fireside chat – it was at a meeting with British and Irish Parliamentarians and Mr. Baker is a Minister with responsibility for the North of Ireland.
The British Government was quick to clarify that they did not share the position of Mr. Baker and that the Good Friday Agreement was clear that a unity referendum in the North would require a simple majority.
But the question remains: why would a member of the British Government consider such an undemocratic position that would undermine the Good Friday Agreement and 100 years of British policy since partition?
When partition was imposed on Ireland, the British maintained that they were only acting on behalf of the wishes of a majority in the six northeastern counties. It was a gerrymander that ignored the democratic wishes of the whole Island.
They claimed that they would retain sovereignty in the North only with the consent of a majority.
This principle of ‘majority consent’ was codified in the Good Friday Agreement and passed overwhelming majority in referendums North and South.
The Good Friday Agreement gives equal status to those who want Irish Unity and those who prefer continued partition.
nThe agreement provides for Irish Unity referendums North and South. If passed in each jurisdiction, it obliges the governments to give effect to the democratic will of the people. Just like the original Good Friday Agreement, any referendums require simple majorities North and South.
Today the overall Unionist political majority is gone. There is a consensus that a unity referendum will take place and it will be up to a majority to decide.
Mr. Baker knows all of this and that is why his contribution was concerning. The rules have been set and agreed upon by the people of the North and South. Does Mr. Baker think that the British Government could or should consider claiming sovereignty over the North of Ireland against the will of the majority? Does continued partition require a 60% vote?
The future is in the hands of the people. A democratic and peaceful route to Irish Unity is agreed upon. If the people vote for unity their democratic wish will be respected.
It will be the people who will decide. That is not “thinking out loud”. That is what has been agreed. That is democracy.
Have a great weekend.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.nn