Northern Ireland news

Four referendums could be required before a United Ireland, according to constitutional experts

It has been suggested that four referendums would be needed. Picture by Rui Vieira/PA

FOUR referendums could be required before a United Ireland, according to constitutional experts.

A working unit of 13 academics from Northern Ireland, the Republic and England are currently involved in the process of examining how a united Ireland might come about.

Among the issues the group are investigating are if a border poll should be triggered, what objective evidence would be used for the Northern Ireland Secretary of State to call such a poll and should the referendums be held in the north and the Republic on the same day.

Dr Alan Renwick, who is involved in the research, said the group "will not be looking at the merits of the argument for or against a united Ireland, but only on how such a process could be conducted".

He also suggested that Brexit has made the prospect of a border poll more likely.

According to a report in The Irish Times, the academics suggest that four referendums could be required, with the first in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which provides for a border poll, if the Secretary of State deems it is appropriate.

A second poll would be needed in the Republic as a united Ireland will necessitate a constitutional change.

Dr Renwick, who is deputy director of the Constitution Unit at University College London (UCL), said there may also need to be a "confirmatory referendum" when the details of what a united Ireland might look like are agreed.

These referendums could be just one poll, in the north and the Republic, or separate polls in both jurisdictions. Or alternatively a poll just in the Republic to vote on the necessary constitutional changes could be required.

Dr Renwick said there is reluctance from both the Irish and British governments to engage in plans for a border poll due to political sensitivities, but that Brexit was pushing the prospect of a border poll.

"Different polls are showing different things, but there is a drift in the poll towards unification and Brexit is having a clear effect on driving greater support for unification, but most polls suggest there is still a majority for staying in the UK," he told The Irish Times.

The working group are expected to issue a report next year.

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