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Ireland should follow Scotland’s White Paper lead, says expert Brendan O’Leary

IRELAND should draft an equivalent of the white paper which set out the case for Scottish independence ahead of a border ballot which would begin in the next decade, a leading constitutional expert has said.

Brendan O’Leary, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said before a referendum voters should be clear about what a united Ireland would look like – unlike the “chaos” unleashed by Brexit.

The comments come ahead of Boris Johnson’s visit to Northern Ireland tomorrow, amid a political crisis sparked by post-Brexit trade deals.

Sinn Fein made history in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections by becoming the largest party for the first time and calling for a debate on a united Ireland.

READ MORE: Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald says Boris Johnson is ‘in cahoots’ with DUP

But the immediate future is one of political uncertainty, with the new assembly unable to function after the DUP blocked the election of a president last week.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson insisted the move sent a “clear message” to the EU and the UK government on resolving issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

O’Leary, who has served as political and constitutional adviser to the UN, EU and the governments of the UK and Ireland, said he believed the Northern Ireland secretary – who holds the power to call a poll at the border – was probably going to start thinking about this around 2030.

Speaking at an expert panel organized by the Center on Constitutional Change, he said: “The reason I take this view is not because I think demographics are fate, but nevertheless it will be the case in 2030 that in every age cohort, except perhaps the over-85s, there will be a non-Protestant majority.

“So at this point, unless there is mass emigration or mass immigration to Northern Ireland between 2011 and now, which we haven’t noticed and mass migratory change in the future, the The fate of Northern Ireland will be in the hands of non-Protestants for the first time.

He added: “Irish reunification is not inevitable, but it is plausible and possible in a way that was not true before it was plausible because the Republic of Ireland is an institutional and economic success. spectacular.

“That cannot be said of Northern Ireland, nor of the UK, which is an institutional mess as a result of Brexit.”

O’Leary (below) was part of a task force examining how future referendums on Northern Ireland would unfold, which published its final report in 2021.

He said the group of independent scholars who took part was made up of a mix of those with ‘soft’ nationalist and unionist positions – but all agreed that any vote would ideally be ‘nothing to do with the referendum on Brexit”.

“If you want to characterize the Brexit referendum, it was one in which there was a choice between the status quo and an undefined alternative,” he said.

“It was partly the result of [David] Cameron’s own decision he wanted to polarize the choice between security first for the UK and chaos.

“Well, chaos has won. And the chaos then meant that there was constant debate over the meaning of the referendum.

“So most of us attached to this referendum group agreed that in a properly prepared referendum the question would be clear, what voting for a united Ireland would mean.

“And that would mean that decisions would have to be made in advance – would that mean the dissolution of Northern Ireland, would that mean maintaining a devolved Northern Ireland within a united Ireland, what would be the provisions on the economy, the police, social service, the health service, etc. ? »

O’Leary said it was possible this could be done, citing the example of the SNP white paper on the future of Scotland which was published before the 2014 independence vote.

He suggested something similar ‘must be prepared’ over the next decade by a unification unit within the Republic of Ireland government, which Sinn Fein has said it intends to set up. .

“Unification would have momentous consequences for the Republic and all these things should be clear in advance,” he added.

Speaking after the DUP refused to back the election of a president last week, party leader Donaldson said the Northern Ireland protocol was “undermining political stability, damaging agreements that formed the basis of political progress in Northern Ireland, for our economy, contributing to the cost of living crisis.

He called on the EU to act and also said that “the ball is firmly in the foot of the [UK] Government.”

The Prime Minister has warned that the UK could abandon the protocol unless Brussels agrees to major changes, but that raised the prospect of a trade war with the EU, which in turn warned that it would react with retaliatory measures if the United Kingdom acted unilaterally.

Clare Rice, a postdoctoral researcher based at the University of Liverpool, who also spoke at the expert event last Thursday, said the matter lay in the hands of Boris Johnson.

But she added: ‘It’s internally convenient for him at this stage to escalate tensions with the European Union.

“He’s faced his own disparagement at the polls with the municipal elections that’s been held, he’s faced a lot of flack within his own party, especially when it comes to protocol and a lot of pressure that he should have take more decisive action before now.

READ MORE: How council tax reform could boost support for Scottish independence

But she said it was unclear what Johnson intended to achieve by increasing tensions with the EU over the issue.

“I think we’re in an extremely difficult situation politically in Northern Ireland, where we’re relying on the prime minister to give that nod, to give that direction,” she said.

“Or just to give something that will at least act as an encouragement, or just something that the DUP is able to sell to its voter base or it is able to sell itself – he can say look at we achieved that , that will do now and we’ll come back to the table.

“That’s not happening – the one person who should be at the center of all of this right now is Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister.”

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