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.