DUAL CONSENT OR DOUBLE STANDARDS?
Daltún Ó Ceallaigh responds to Frank Millar’s article in ‘The Irish Times’ of 25 October2002 on ‘NI Accord: back to the drawing board?’ [refused by that newspaper]
Frank Millar’s article is both confused and misleading as regards the content and implications of the Good Friday Agreement in the matter of consent and how that criterion affects the governance and future of the North. There are three levels to be considered: the constitutional position; devolved power-sharing; and cross-community decision-making.
is quite apparent from the Agreement and implementing legislation, as well as
accompanying parliamentary speeches, that in practice the constitutional
position will, as previously, be determined by a simple majority vote. In
stating that the need for consent implies “a right to withhold it”, Mr Millar
clearly has in mind, in the first instance, unionists’ endorsement of
power-sharing and/or cross-community decision-making and, in the second, their
acceptance of the outcome of a plebiscite on partition. However, his
observation could logically apply at all three levels, including nationalist
toleration of the present
But the whole point of the Agreement was the interlocking
nature of various commitments. Unionists got simple majority rule in respect of
maintenance of the
As for the future and any constitutional change, Mr Millar writes that “republicans and nationalists still adhere to the principle of consent by a simple majority - and not the principle of dual consent from which the agreement derives its operational imperative.” This is wholly misleading. It needs to be stressed that this stance is not in contradiction of the Agreement, but flows specifically from it in Section 1(iii) under ‘Constitutional Issues’ and elsewhere.
Despite the fact that the
“principle of dual consent” in the Agreement has only got to do with
power-sharing and certain decision-making, Mr Millar avers that “if the consent
of a majority of both communities is required to run a mere Stormont
administration, it is plainly nonsense to suggest the emergence of a simple
nationalist majority would be sufficient to effect a change of sovereignty and
statehood.” That may be his opinion, but, as we have seen, it is not what the
Agreement lays down. If there is an implication in the Agreement in this
regard, it is that, should a change of sovereignty occur by simple majority
vote, the same power-sharing and cross-community provisions in the North ought
to continue to operate in a United
The real problem
concerning constitutional change, therefore, is not “dual consent”, but double
standards. Nationalists have to acquiesce in a simple majority as long as it
Mr Millar also remarks that “there
remains the issue which has contributed to the erosion of unionist support for
the agreement: Sinn Féin's repeated assertion that it marks but a transition on
the road to Irish unity.” Naturally, there should be no anxiety about
nationalist confidence being eroded by the UUP’s
constant assertion that the Agreement ensures the
Alternatively, there is an attitude which would suggest that people should articulate freely what they think the Agreement can and should mean, rather than suppress such aspirations and interpretations in deference to the allegedly immature sensitivities of their opponents.
Then history could be allowed to decide.
Daltún Ó Ceallaigh is author of the book ‘Irish Republicanism: Good Friday & After’.