Current Affairs Irish Republican Politics

Gaming The Good Friday Agreement By Insisting On A Super-Majority Vote

The core principle of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and all associated accords is the understanding that the “constitutional” position of the British-administered north-east of Ireland will not change until a majority of voters in the contested region support it. There is no other requirement in the GFA beyond a simple 50%+ vote in favour of reunification with the rest of the country. Not a 60% vote, not a 70%, not an 80%. The multiparty and intergovernmental treaties overseen by Ireland and the United Kingdom make it clear that a “plus-one” northern referendum is enough to trigger an end to the UK’s legacy colony on this island. This is the democratic mechanism to end partition which the authorities in Dublin and London have insisted on for the past three or four decades. One that the Republican Movement and other parties, along with the Irish electorate, signed up to in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

However, having agreed upon the criteria for reunification some are now attempting to move the goalposts and introduce a new hurdle. One that necessitates a “super-majority” outcome from any plebiscite held in the Six Counties. Former taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader, Bertie Ahern, has taken to the airwaves to argue that:

[The clauses put forward in the Good Friday Agreement] were not for some sort of sectarian vote, or the day when the nationalists or republicans could outvote the unionists and loyalists. If you want trouble again in the North, play that game. It’s a dangerous game.

The whole spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is to work in peace and harmony on this island, until the day comes that nationalist and republicans will convince freely a proportion of unionists and loyalists that a united Ireland is a good idea.

To be absolutely clear, that is not the spirit or the wording of the Good Friday Agreement, nor would Sinn Féin or the SDLP have accepted any such stipulation. Again, the GFA states in unambiguous language that reunification will occur when a 50%+ majority vote takes place in a regional referendum (concurrent with a plebiscite held at a national level). It does not place any conditions on the political or communal identity of that majority vote. By moving from a pro-unity majority in a northern referendum to a unionist pro-unity majority, even if a minority of the overall electorate, Bertie Ahern knows full well that he is placing a sectarian “Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist” veto on unification. Under this arrangement the British-imposed division of Ireland would become a permanent situation with no possibility of a peaceful resolution.

Far from taking the gun out of the politics of Ireland, or out of the political relations between this island nation and its historically hostile neighbour, the ex-head of Fianna Fáil is implicitly endorsing its threatened use. And if violence is good enough for a separatist pro-UK minority to get their way then the same must be true for those who hold an opposing view.

A dangerous game indeed.

15 comments on “Gaming The Good Friday Agreement By Insisting On A Super-Majority Vote

  1. manandboy

    So why is Bertie Ahern suddenly smelling like a rat.
    Perhaps he’s been visiting his cousins in Westminster’s sewers lately, to be told that NI has something the UK wants, like berthing nuclear subs in Belfast Lough, or oil in NI waters. With an Independent Scotland in the offing, these two items would take on huge meaning which would not have been attributable previously, and certainly not at the time of the GFA.
    I’d say Westminster’s simply hedging it’s bets. Or playing for time.

    Whatever the outcome, Westminster has plenty of form when it comes to moving the goalposts. As when “the 1979 referendum on Scottish devolution was famously ‘lost’, despite a small majority voting in favour of the proposal, because it failed to pass the 40% hurdle. George Cunningham, a Labour MP and a Scot, but sitting in an English constituency, proposed an amendment during the passage of the Scotland Act through parliament that 40% of the electorate, rather than a simple majority of those voting, would be required to vote Yes for the Act to be implemented. The amendment was passed, but although 51.6% voted Yes on a 63.8% turnout, this only represented 32.9% of the total electorate at the time of 3,737,362. The Act was subsequently repealed because the conditions for its implementation had not been met.” (Ian Stuart Baird in Scot Goes Pop)


    • I have a strong suspicion that a pro-unity vote of 51% or 52% in the north would be rejected by unionists and the UK government on similar grounds. Even if no such rule was in place as part of the GFA. I think Ahern reflects a similar view in Dublin’s political establishment. Of course, that would simply be a cause of conflict for another generation. It seems that there are people who would rather have a nationalist insurgency to contend with than a unionist one, even if the latter was wholly anti-democratic in nature.


  2. Someone once said democracy is like smoke in a bottle I.e an illusion, a fraud etc. Listening to Ahern they may have a point. Violent Irish republicans will/can argue that they should never have downed their weapons I.e if it works for unionism then it should apply to republicanism.


    • That is exactly the point. If we have a northern referendum with a 50%+ vote and Dublin and London give in to unionist demands for a 70%+ or 75%+ vote then violence is legitimised. Who could argue with an IRA fighting on the position of an overturned plebiscite vote?


  3. manandboy

    The way forward is to activate the electorate, for it is when the many allow the few to take control that democracy is devalued and then dismissed. If the British demand more votes, then more votes it has to be. Hard work it may be to create a popular political movement, but not as hard as armed struggle, and with a lot better outcomes. And anyway, unless the support of the electorate is forthcoming either way, there can be no lasting result.
    All today’s opportunities are political. Until they are all exhausted, it would be extremely foolish, bordering on reckless, not to invest in what are real possibilities for secure resolutions to our difficulties.


    • Yes, but if the British government insists on a 75%+ Yes vote in the referendum, or a 90%+ turnout on the day, then I can assure you that armed struggle will go from the option of last resort to the option of first resort.


  4. Colm J

    It’s no surprise to see Ahern touting the ultra-Unionist line once again. After all as Fianna Fail leader he enjoyed the fulsome endorsement of Anglo-supremacist extraordinaire Eoghan Harris, and, quite ludicrously, even appointed this verbose clown to the Seanad. Ahern also promoted the idea of Ireland re-joining the Commonwealth – a longstanding aim of the hardcore Anglo-supremacist cabal in Ireland – Harris, Mary Robinson, Gay Byrne, Bruce Arnold, Ruth Dudley Edwards. Mary Kenny and so on.

    In my view it’s also very significant that Ahern promised that even if he won the 1997 general election, he would still form a coalition with the the ultra-revisionist Neo-con Progressive Democrats. Whoever heard of a party that wins an election seeking to share the spoils of victory? Why do this except to reassure the Anglo-supremacists that you would never go rogue? These were the terms upon which Fianna Fail were allowed to achieve power. The media in those days always touted Ahern as a brilliant election winner, but in reality he never achieved an overall majority – which was just how the Anglo-supremacists wanted it. In that respect his electoral record was little better than Haughey’s – a man who was dismissed as a political failure because he never won a majority of seats in the Dail. Very fortuitously for the Revisionist cabal, Haughey also relied on the Neocon PDs to form a coalition in the 1980s. It’s quite curious how modern Irish elections always seem to turn up outcomes that suit the interests of Anglo-supremacists. Even in 1981 Haughey had to rely on the support of the Workers Party – the pseudo left-wing face of Anglo-supremacism in Ireland.

    By the way during his first term as Taoiseach, the Sunday Independent reported that Ahern paid an official visit to the Masonic Grand Lodge of Ireland in Molesworth Street – opposite the Dail. The Sunday Indo report stated that Ahern was greeted by the Grand Master of the Lodge, but quite bizarrely omitted to mention this gentleman’s name – thus transgressing the very first “w” rule of journalism, as in “Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?”

    It’s not nearly as well known as it should be that the Orange Order was founded by Freemasons and is still directed by Freemasons, so this visit to the Lodge may provide a clue as to Ahern’s pro-Orange stance and his fraternal relations with Harris and some of the other southern Orangeists.


  5. ar an sliabh

    Seems to be a common “understanding” within the ruling class that no conditions for a referendum exist…whatever that is supposed to mean.


  6. Good grief, what a load of guff about Anglo-supremacists. This is about as grounded as the Nazi stab-in-the-back nonsense. Ahern is simply trying to adjust expectations against a divisive and contested reunification. Legally 50%+1 will suffice. That is incontestably so. Whether it would it be in everyone’s best interests to try to force a vote on that kind of possible outcome (i.e., prematurely) is another matter. I, and I suspect most people in the Republic, would be content to wait until the margin is a bit more secure than that. It doesn’t need a number, whether it’s 5% or 10% is not that important, compared to having a peaceful and accepted outcome.

    I certainly have NO INTENTION of voting for a bloody reunification BY ANY MARGIN and I think any IRA sympathisers who think the people of the Republic are going to vote for that are delusional. They aren’t.

    I don’t have a lot of time for Ahern but he’s speaking common sense. And, no, I don’t accept a unionist minority veto with the threat of violence either.


    • Thanks for the Comment, P, and welcome.

      First let me just note a couple of things. You state that,

      “Ahern is simply trying to adjust expectations against a divisive and contested reunification”

      But then argue that,

      “…I don’t accept a unionist minority veto with the threat of violence

      However those two things are related. Who would contest reunification but militant unionism and through violence? And if the referendum vote being contested is a reason for putting it off then the implied or perceived unionist threat of violence has succeeded.

      Furthermore, what is the acceptable majority in a northern plebiscite? 55% or 60% or 90%? That is important.

      Simply put, arguing for some sort of pro-unity super-majority as a prerequisite to holding a referendum is playing into the hands of those who argue that democracy in the north is a sham. If a 50% + 1 vote is not enough then why have the GFA in the first place? Or any type of peaceful mechanism to reunification?

      If the threat of violence can still prevent the holding of a future referendum with a likely 50%+ vote… Well then others can take up the same arguments and point them in the other direction.


    • Colm J

      As usual, P substitutes empty waffle for factual argument. Everything I say about Ahern is factually irrefutable – unlike his (or her) spurious nonsense . Anyone who argues, as all of the folk I cited do, that the Irish had no right to secede from the UK, is by definition an Anglo-supremacist. Indeed the likes of Bruce Arnold are quite open about their Anglo-supremacism. Likewise the Orange Order openly admit to being adherents of British Israelism – the belief that the “Anglo-Saxon races” are one of the lost tribes of Israel, and therefore God’s chosen people. A recent piece on this site drew attention to a piece in the UK’s most prestigious newspaper, The Times, by Melanie Philips, stating that the Irish have no right to nationhood. Imagine the hysterical screeches from Harris, Brendan O’Connor and the rest of the Sindo presstitutes if any Irish politician stated that the English, or indeed Northern Protestants, had no right to nationhood.


    • Michael

      P, I don’t understand your logic; the GFA, signed by all, stated 50 + 1; that is all that is ethically, legally, and dare I say morally needed. If the Unionists backpedal and demand more, then they need to be thrown under the bus by not only the Irish Govt, then also by britain and world opinion. And we all have a god idea on where britain will stand. If they’re faced with war, a war of their own making, then once the dust has settled, they’ll probably wind up with less in an Irish Republic than they would by just going peacefully. You can’t claim moral superiority over Nationalist feelings on violence when you’re caving into the same thing by a minority in Ireland.


  7. Big Blue

    Whether you like it or not he’s right. A simple sectarian headcount where nationalists get a 51% advantage would inevitably lead to conflict.
    That’s not in the interests of Ireland, Northern Ireland or the UK.


    • But if nationalists get 51% and are refused their vote what then?

      Or, if unionists can threaten violence because they are likely to lose a referendum vote, and get it permanently stalled, then nationalists can threaten violence because they are denied the referendum vote they are likely to win.

      The argument is a double-edged sword.


  8. the Phoenix

    Whats the difference? Sinn Fein gave up Ireland’s right to a single 32 county referendum on unity in favor of a partitionist referendum with a unionist veto. Sinn Fein sold out and accepted the anti democratic GFA deal.


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