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16 April 2014
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A State Apart

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Constitutional Issues
Constitutional Issues
     
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Image of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern surrounded by his cabinet after amending Articles 2 & 3 of the Irish Constitution, 2nd December 1999
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern surrounded by his cabinet after amending Articles 2 & 3 of the Irish Constitution, 2nd December 1999

The Belfast Agreement radically transforms the institutional and constitutional arrangements the UK and Irish governments have with Northern Ireland. Under the terms of the Agreement both governments made constitutional and legislative changes to alter their expressions of sovereignty over Northern Ireland. In exchange for the Republic's agreement to amend Articles 2 & 3, the British government repealed the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This took effect when the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which implemented the Belfast Agreement, became law on 19 November 1998.

 
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Key Academic Opinions
The state of the Union
The Northern Ireland Act 1998
A multicultural settlement?
Key Newspaper Articles
Unionists object to guillotine
     
The Agreement mandated new institutional arrangements to reflect the British and Irish governments' altered expressions of sovereignty over Northern Ireland. These were: the North-South Ministerial Council; the implementation bodies; the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Dr Mo Mowlam signed the treaties regulating these bodies in Dublin on 8 March 1999.  
Key Newspaper Articles
Pressure mounts on Provos
     
Image of Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews signing the new British-Irish Treaty in Dublin, 2 December 1999
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews signing the new British-Irish Treaty in Dublin, 2 December 1999
The treaties, however, could only take effect once an Executive had been established in Northern Ireland. At midnight on 1 December 1999 twenty-seven years of direct rule came to an end when power was formally devolved to the new Northern Ireland Assembly. The following day power was devolved to the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council when the Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson signed commencement orders for the new British-Irish Agreement in Iveagh House, Dublin. An hour later Taoiseach Bertie Ahern signed a declaration formally amending Articles 2 & 3 of the Irish Constitution that had claimed sovereignty over Northern Ireland. Later the same day Northern Ireland's power-sharing Executive met for the first time.
 
Key Newspaper Articles
Paisley pours scorn
     
Image of the front covers of the English and Irish versions of the Belfast Agreement
English and Irish versions of the Belfast Agreement
At the heart of the Agreement is the recognition by both governments that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK until a majority of its people decide otherwise. Moreover, the UK and the Republic agreed "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, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland."
 
Key Newspaper Articles
Peace agreements and human rights
     
That consent is to be tested in a border poll at intervals of no less than seven years to ascertain whether Northern Ireland wants to remain part of the UK or be absorbed into the Republic. The seven yearly interval is only triggered when the first such poll is held. The decision to hold the first poll in 2005 will be taken by the Secretary of State. Should a majority favour union with the Republic, the UK government is committed to implement the necessary legislative change.    
     
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