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Unification - Summary

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Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh


Unification - Summary


The issue of a united Ireland (/ re-unification of Ireland / unification of Ireland) refers to the political aim of uniting Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as a single sovereign state. Currently the British Parliament holds sovereignty of the region of Northern Ireland (comprised of six of the thirty-two counties of the island of Ireland).

Achieving a united Ireland by consent is a key tenet of Irish nationalists. Maintaining the status quo - Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) - is the core aim of Unionists.

Under the terms of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, the current status of Northern Ireland can only be changed by the consent of a majority vote (50 per cent plus one vote) of those who participate in a future referendum. The Agreement sets out that concurrent referenda would be required to be held in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Following the European Referendum (Brexit Vote) on 23 June 2016 there have been indications that some people who previously would have voted for the status quo, would now be willing to vote for a united Ireland as a means to secure EU membership for Northern Ireland. Certainly the debate around the issue of holding a vote on the future of the region has increased since that date.

Under the terms of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement (Schedule 1) only the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can call for a poll / referendum on a change to the constitutional position of the region. The Secretary of State may call for a vote, "if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland." (Schedule 1, paragraph 2). It is not clear if evidence from opinion polls - polls of voting intentions - would provide sufficient evidence for a Secretary of State to take that decision.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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