Northern Ireland news

Stormont urged to prepare for 'period of constitutional turbulence'

Queen's University professor Colin Harvey

THE STORMONT executive and the assembly have been urged to plan for the "period of constitutional turbulence" caused by Brexit, a potential border poll and the growing possibility of Scottish independence.

The call comes from Professor Colin Harvey ahead of his presentation today to members of the Executive Office Committee.

The Queen's academic will be joined by barrister Mark Bassett as they brief MLAs on their research paper 'The EU and Irish Unity: Planning and Preparing for Constitutional Change in Ireland'.

The pair launched the report in the European Parliament in October 2019 and have subsequently given evidence on their findings to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking last night, Prof Harvey said today's briefing was "part of a growing conversation about constitutional change that's taking place across the island".

He said he was seeking to establish what work Stormont was undertaking on the potential for constitutional change, while also making recommendations on what ministers and MLAs could do.

"If they take the concept of parity of esteem - that is the equal treatment of both constitutional goals - seriously, then they should be contingency planning for all eventualities," he said.

"As our paper notes, this includes maintaining the status quo, Scottish independence and a united Ireland."

Prof Harvey said he would be recommending the creation of an assembly ad hoc committee to examine "all constitutional possibilities".

"We are in a period of constitutional turbulence, so it seems appropriate to ask what planning is in place for the various eventualities," he said.

"The objective of our work is to help all communities to think about and prepare for whatever futures might emerge - so we'd hope that all communities and all political parties would see the sense in participating in preparatory work, whatever their view about the constitutional future."

The Queen's academic said it was crucial not to "stumble into referendums and repeat the mess of Brexit".

However, DUP Executive Office Committee member Christopher Stalford said Prof Harvey was "agitating for a border poll" and that focus should instead be on making the current political institutions work more effectively

"There seems to be a belief amongst some that talking about a united Ireland will somehow make it a self-fulfilling prophesy and is somehow a substitute for dealing with the issues that really matter to the lives of people here," the South Belfast MLA said.

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