Planning for the Irish Unity Referendum
by Greg O'Loughlin (Nashville, Tennessee)
"If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail" - Benjamin Franklin
A unity referendum is an essential commitment of the Good Friday Agreement. It is a peaceful and democratic pathway for Irish Unity. The debate is no longer “if” there will be a referendum but the “how” and “when” of a referendum.
Just as America was essential to creating the conditions for The Good Friday Agreement, it must again work to ensure its full implementation and proper planning for a referendum occurs.
The fifth anniversary of the Brexit referendum is just around the corner, and while a lot has been said about every step and misstep taken after the votes were tallied, less attention has been paid to how a lack of a clear, thoughtful plan was a fundamental reason for the complete and utter failure of the referendum process.
A report released last week by a working group of 12 experts from universities in Ireland, Britain, and the United States makes clear that now is the opportunity to learn from those mistakes and plan a referendum process for the unification of Ireland that is transparent, stable, and inclusive.
The Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland, based in the Constitution Unit at the University College of London makes clear that a failure to plan for the logistics and details will have potentially dangerous results. They also reiterate that regardless of timing, the path forward for all decision-making for the future of Ireland exists within the framework of The Good Friday Agreement.
From the group: “The framework for referendums on Northern Ireland's constitutional future is laid out by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is obliged to call such a vote if a majority for a united Ireland appears to him or her likely. If such a vote does happen, it will be vital that the process is designed and conducted well. Yet the 1998 Agreement is silent on many aspects of how this would be done, and only limited public thinking has been done to fill the gap. The Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland has sought to put that necessary thinking in place.”
Planning for a referendum must start now.