Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Questions (89)

Joan Burton


89. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his Department has examined or commissioned a cost profile of the likely costs of a united Ireland. [36416/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The full implementation and effective operation of the Good Friday Agreement is a priority for the Government.

The principle of consent and the possibility of change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland are fundamental elements of the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed by the people of this island North and South.

The approach of the Government in relation to Irish unity is of course guided by Article 3 of the Constitution, as amended by the people in 1998. 

Under the Agreement, the two Governments firstly “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 Britain or a sovereign united Ireland”.

Secondly, the two Governments “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”.

In the event that, “in the future, the people of the island of Ireland exercise their right of self–determination on the basis set out…above to bring about a united Ireland, it will be a binding obligation on both Governments to introduce and support in their respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish”.

The holding of a referendum in this jurisdiction is connected with the calling of a border poll, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, in Northern Ireland. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the Secretary of State shall exercise this power "if at any time it appears likely ... 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."

While the decision to hold such a poll in Northern Ireland rests with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Government does not believe it likely at present that such a border poll in the near future would result in a decision on the part of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland in favour of constitutional change.

In these circumstances, it is the Government’s clear view that such a poll would only increase uncertainty and division at an already difficult and sensitive time.

The Government respects everyone’s right on this island to make the case for the constitutional future they wish to see for Northern Ireland - whether nationalist, unionist or neither. The Good Friday Agreement - and the two sovereign Governments - explicitly recognise and validate the legitimacy of both of these constitutional positions, which are deeply held.

In the absence of the prospect of a referendum in the near future, the Government has no immediate plans for specific preparations on this issue, nor has there been in the past. This includes the commissioning or formal examination by my Department of a profile of the potential costs of a United Ireland. My Department is aware of the academic and other research papers on the subject which have been published.

In the event of a future referendum within the consent provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government would make all necessary preparations in accordance with the terms of the Constitution and the principles and procedures of the Agreement.

The Government’s immediate priorities are to secure the functioning of the devolved power-sharing institutions and the North South Ministerial Council, which are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement, and to ensure the protection of the Agreement in all its parts and the gains of the Peace Process, in the context of the UK decision to exit the European Union under any scenario.