Northern Ireland news

Ireland on path for dual north/south referendums on unification

Prof Colin Harvey told lawyers: `For this island, Irish reunification means automatic return to the EU.'

BREXIT has set Ireland "on the path" to simultaneous north/south referendums on unification, an international legal conference has been told.

The Franco-British Lawyers Society Colloquium in Belfast looking at European perspectives for `Navigating Brexit' heard that its exit from the EU could be "the iceberg that will sink the UK in its current form".

Queen's University of Belfast law professor Colin Harvey warned that future British governments, parliaments and judiciary will find the immediate future "messy".

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"Brexit will remain legally complicated for the UK, as will the future relationship with the EU, and this will be giving judges and lawyers headaches for years to come."

He said whether "constitutional conversations are guided by the values of the (Good Friday agreement [GFA]... with) informed dialogue, respectful debate and proper planning" will be key.

"The island is on a path towards concurrent referendums on whether people would prefer a united Ireland (and thus EU membership) or wish to retain the union with Britain," Prof Harvey said.

Prof Colin Harvey at the Beyond Brexit event at the Waterfront Hall Picture Mal McCann.

"This is acknowledged within the internal constitutional legal orders of both states, underpinned by international law, and recognition is implied by the EU in its endorsement of the GFA in all its parts."

He insisted that "testing the principal of consent/right to determination... should provoke no one", adding that planning for it has already started and predicting "governments will catch up".

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Earlier this month, the Derry-born academic said he has felt "under siege" from unionism and loyalism for the past year after being the target of criticism from elected representatives among others over his role in the civic nationalism movement.

However, he told the assembled lawyers: "Brexit alters the nature of the discussion about constitutional futures because, for this island, Irish reunification means automatic return to the EU."

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