Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Today in History - New Ireland Forum

One island, one nation It was on this day, May 30th, 1983, that the Irish government established the New Ireland Forum to consult on the manner in which lasting peace and stability could be achieved in a new Ireland.

Four political parties took part in the Forum who represented three-quarters of the entire population of Ireland. Sinn Féin were excluded due to Provisional IRA violence whilst the unionist parties and the Alliance Party chose not to attend. Some individual unionists did particpate in the Forum however as the Forum sought submissions from the general public.

One of the principle conclusions from the New Ireland Forum's report published on May 2nd, 1984, was as follows:

"Among the fundamental realities the Forum has identified is the desire of nationalists for a united Ireland in the form of a sovereign, independent Irish state to be achieved peacefully and by consent."

The New Ireland Forum recognized the distinctive unionist identity on the island of Ireland. It also acknowledged the basis for unionist fears of a united Ireland and elaborated the need for a new Irish constitution should there ever be a unitary state. It went on to state that both the nationalist and unionist identities would be protected and preserved should there ever be a united Ireland.

The Forum's published report can be read in full here but I'd like to focus on Chapter 6 which deals with the idea of a Unitary State. The report reads:

6.1 A unitary state would embrace the island of Ireland governed as a single unit under one government and one parliament elected by all the people of the island. It would seek to unite in agreement the two major identities and traditions in Ireland. The democratic basis of a unitary state in Ireland has always existed in modern times. Historically up to 1922 Ireland was governed as a single unit and prior to the Act of Union in 1801 was constitutionally a separate and theoretically equal kingdom. Such a state would represent a constitutional change of such magnitude as to require a new constitution that would be non-denominational. This constitution could only be formulated at an all-round constitutional conference convened by the British and Irish Governments. Such a constitution would contain clauses which would guarantee civil and religious liberties to all the citizens of the state on a basis that would entail no alteration nor diminution of the provisions in respect of civil and religious liberties which apply at present to the citizens of Northern Ireland. These guarantees could not subsequently be changed, except in accordance with special procedures.

6.2 The rights of all citizens would be guaranteed in the constitution. Reinforcing guarantees would incorporate in the constitution the clauses of the European Convention on Human Rights with a right of access to the European Court of Human Rights.

6.3 In a unitary state, there would be a single legal and judicial system throughout the island. The study by Professors Boyle and Greer, The Legal Systems, North and South shows that there would be no significant technical obstacle to the creation of a unified legal system.

6.4 Political and administrative arrangements in a unitary state would be devised to ensure that unionists would not be denied power or influence in a state where nationalists would be in a majority. For example, provision could be made for weighted majorities in the Parliament in regard to legislation effecting changes in provisions on issues agreed to be fundamental at the establishment of the new state. In the Senate unionists could be guaranteed a minimum number of seats. The powers of the Senate could include effective blocking powers in regard to the issues agreed to be fundamental. Mechanisms for ensuring full Northern participation in an integrated Irish civil service would have to be devised.

6.5 A unitary state would have a single police service recruited from the whole island so designed that both nationalists and unionists could identify with it on the basis of political consensus.

6.6 A redefined relationship between Britain and Ireland would take account of the unionist sense of Britishness. In a unitary state, persons in Ireland, North and South, who at present hold British citizenship would continue to have such citizenship and could pass it on to their children without prejudice to the status of Irish citizenship which they would automatically acquire. The state could develop structures, relationships and associations with Britain which could include an Irish-British Council with intergovernmental and interparliamentary structures which would acknowledge the unique relationship between Ireland and Britain and which would provide expression of the long-established connections which unionists have with Britain.

6.7 All the cultural traditions in Ireland, North and South, would be guaranteed full expression and encouragement. The educational system would reflect the two main traditions on the island. The Irish language and culture would continue to be fostered by the state, and would be made more accessible to everyone in Ireland without any compulsion or imposition on any section.

6.8 A unitary state achieved by agreement between the nationalist and unionist traditions would for the first time allow full participation by all traditions in the affairs of the island. This would require a general and more explicit acknowledgement of a broader and more comprehensive Irish identity. A unitary state would promote administrative and economic efficiency in the island by ending duplication and separate planning and investment programmes and by facilitating integrated promotion of investment, exports and tourism. Natural resources, oil, gas and minerals will be developed for the benefit of all the people of Ireland and could make a significant contribution to securing the economic basis of the state. With no scope for conflicts of jurisdiction and with single taxation and currency systems, the implementation of an integrated economic policy suitable to the largely similar needs of the economies, North and South, would be facilitated, with consequent benefit. Integrated economic policies would ensure a united voice in advancing vital interests of both parts of Ireland, especially in the European Community, within which both North and South have common interests in areas such as agriculture and regional policy which diverge from the interests of Britain.

It is clear from reading the above report that the sensible ideas proposed by the New Ireland Forum are as relevant now as they were back then.

Indeed the Forum's conclusions are so relevant to Irish people today that I myself would not object to the idea of holding another New Ireland Forum.

It is abundantly clear that the division of the national territory remains the biggest problem facing both parts of the island of Ireland. It is a problem that will not ease with the passage of time.

The only way the evils of Partition can be successfully dealt with is through the reunification of the national territory.

The entity known as Northern Ireland was borne out of sectarianism and thus it is not surprising that its legacy has been pure, unadulterated sectarianism.

How can people be expected to live together in harmony when they are living in a construct that was designed to encourage division and segregation?

Since the New Ireland Forum in 1983, the Irish Republic has become more and more culturally diverse and the 26-county State has become successful. In contrast, the sectarian 6-county polity remains stagnant.

It is time unionists realised that there is no longer any valid reason for them to keep the Irish people divided.

It is time for us to reunite.


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