"The Hermeneutics of the Good Friday Agreement: A Response to ‘Getting Ready’ by Brendan O’Leary"

Michigan Law Authors
Publish Date
2021
Publication
Irish Studies in International Affairs
Publication Type
Journal Article
Abstract

The Belfast / Good Friday Agreement provides 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 of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, north and south. Assuming a referendum in each jurisdiction, who should be allowed to vote? Whether a constitutional amendment or replacement referendum is used in the south, the franchise is likely to be that already stipulated in the existing Constitution. The franchise for the referendum in the north is far less straightforward. This article explores the legal constraints or soft-law guidelines that are relevant to the franchise in each jurisdiction, potential issues that arise from tensions between the two franchises, and possible resolutions. We argue that the Agreement does not constrain the franchise in the north, beyond the vague requirement that ‘the people of Northern Ireland’ are the relevant electors. Ultimately, we recommend that either the existing Assembly or Westminster franchise be followed, rather than constructing a new franchise specifically for any unification referendum.

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