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Unity in diversity? Constitutional identities, deliberative processes and a ‘Border Poll’ in Ireland

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Colin MurrayORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Much is written about how the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement conditions the processes leading to a ‘border poll’. However, the Agreement provides little more than a base line. This article sets off from this base line and explores, in the context of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the key features of the pathways for creating a new polity (albeit the analysis is relevant to any process of polity creation). Resting on the premise that a deep deliberate democracy is essential to the creation of new polities, the article uses legal pre-figuration to consider how the existing legal structures, questions of constituent power and self-determination alongside feminist constitutionalism and civil society action could shape polity creation through (re)unification referendums. Pressure always exists, in the context of referendums, for a rapid process which relies on existing practices. This prioritises the voices of certain community interests, to the exclusion or marginalisation of others. At their most extensive, processes which either are truncated and/or rely solely on existing practice will tweak Ireland’s existing constitution; Northern Ireland will find itself subsumed and pre-existing marginalisation of a range of groups will persist. Further, the potential inherent in the moment of creation of a new polity to define the new state will be lost. A (re)unification process offers an opportunity for the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland to consider the constitutional contours of the new state they are creating, an opportunity to be embraced.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Murray C, O'Donoghue A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: King's Law Journal

Year: 2023

Volume: 34

Issue: 2

Pages: 340-368

Online publication date: 04/09/2023

Acceptance date: 23/08/2023

Date deposited: 28/08/2023

ISSN (print): 0961-5768

ISSN (electronic): 1757-8442

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/09615768.2023.2253386


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