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A response to the Mitchell Agreement

Written in May 1998 by David Kerr on behalf of the Ulster Independence Movement. This was published as a pamphlet in advance of the referendum on the Agreement later that month.


The participants in the multi-party negotiations believe that their document ‘offers a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning’ and talk of a ‘fresh start’ on the basis of ‘partnership, equality and mutual respect’ within the six-county area, between North and south and between these islands. However, as we shall see, Ulster is very much an unequal junior ‘partner’ in these relationships as ministerial Cross-Border Institutions with Executive Powers (CroBIEPs) and the British-Irish Ministerial Council will wield all of the real power in this document.

The reaffirmation of all the parties to ‘exclusively peaceful means’ to resolve political differences is most welcome - if it can be taken at face value. We note that all of the parts of this agreement are designed so as to be interlocking and to be interdependent. This precludes, for example, the Assembly ignoring the North-South ministerial council. Instead of proper self-determination, the new Assembly will only be able to operate by the leave of the North-South Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.


The British and Irish governments have committed themselves to sign a new Northern Ireland with regard to its status. However, the ‘choices’ open are just two - a conditional version of the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland . There is no mention of another option- an independent sovereign Ulster . The purported recognition of the right of ‘the people of the island of the island of Ireland alone, by the agreement of the two parts’ to exercise self-determination on the basis of free consent subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland ’ is a masterpiece of ambiguity.

It seems that there is already a majority of people on ‘the island of Ireland' for a united Irish state. Their wish to incorporate the six counties into their territory will be triggered once there is even a 50% + 1 vote in favour of such a change. This makes Northern Ireland ’s status as part of the UK conditional which is quite a difference from all the other parts. The acknowledgement that it would be wrong to make any change in Northern Ireland ’s status without the consent of a majority seems grand as far as it goes but in fact a simple majority is all that will be needed to effect such a transfer of sovereignty. We note, however, that no such consent is needed for all sorts of ‘harmonising’ changes short of a full transfer of sovereignty to the Leinster House regime.

Paragraph 1 (vi) provides for dual citizenship, so that residents of Northern Ireland can choose to be either Irish or British citizens or both. This right would transfer in the event of Irish unity but as Ulster is denied the status of a nationality, Ulsterfolk living in their own country can only be allowed to take Irish or British citizenship. Genuine self-determination is ruled out.


Northern Ireland ’s status as part of the United Kingdom is formally put on a conditional basis. This legislation, if passed, would provide for regular, seven-yearly polls to determine whether or not Northern Ireland should remain in the UK or join the Republic. No provision is made for a poll on any other option, e.g. repartition or independence. The repeal of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 is a permanent move, whereas the proposed changes to the Irish Constitution will only come into effect if the full agreement is implemented to the satisfaction of the Oireachtas - Leinster House.

The Ulster Independence Movement called for the repeal of the Government of Ireland Act in 1996. We saw this in the context of agreed negotiated independence for Ulster and the parallel removal of Éire ’s aggressive constitutional claim on the six counties. In effect, the Ulster Independence Movement called both states to withdraw their claims to sovereignty over our homeland. This is not the effect of the Mitchell Agreement. Instead, we are to remain in a constitutional limbo until our eventual formal expulsion from the UK into a new All-Ireland state.

The schedule which outlines the procedure for holding regular polls on the future status of Northern Ireland allows the Secretary of State to direct the holding of a poll on any given date if it appears likely that a majority of voters ‘would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom' and ‘form part of a united Ireland. It is not clear how this ‘appears likely’. Again, a majority could in theory wish to opt for an independent Ulster but the Secretary of State could ignore their wishes.

Part three of this schedule in effect subjects Northern Ireland ’s status to seven-yearly reviews. This will cause instability as everyone waits for the other shoe to fall. The UIM has long favoured referenda on a number of crucial issues, but the onus on calling a referendum should lie with the people - not the Secretary of State. This would require a petition signed by a percentage of electors in each parliamentary constituency.


Article 29 of the Constitution deals with the Irish state’s international relations and membership of the United Nations, the EEC and the European Union etc. Paragraph 7:2 states that any institution established by the Agreement may exercise its powers and functions ‘irrespective of all or any part of the island of Ireland.’ This suggests that some of the present functions of the Oireachtas will be taken over by such bodies. This could become a framework for an all-island parliament to which the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas would be subordinate.

The proposal to amend Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution is long overdue and, on the face of it, most welcome. It is regrettable that this change is conditional on the establishment of all the institutions in the Agreement. It should be noted, however, that the existence of these articles prevented any formal joint exercise of authority or executive powers as these conflicted with the ‘constitutional imperative’ of Leinster House to govern all 32 counties.

The amended version of Article 2 entitles everyone born on the ‘island of Ireland’ to be part of the ‘Irish nation’. This is fair enough and of itself is no longer a claim on the territory of the six counties. It also recognises the special affinity of the Irish nation with its diaspora. It is entirely a matter for the Leinster House government to identify with Irish ethnic minority groups in Ulster and overseas and is fairly unobjectionable.

The amended Article 3 is much more interesting and subtly ambiguous. In it, the Ulster-Scots and Ulster-British are subsumed as ‘people who share the territory of the island of Ireland , in all the diversity of their identities and traditions’ - in effect different kinds of Irish people. The recognition that a united Irish State should only come about with the consent of a majority of the people in both jurisdictions is positive as is the admission that two jurisdictions presently exist.

However, the proposed new Article 3:2 dealing with CroBIEPs allows such institutions to exercise powers and functions ‘in respect of all or any part of the island'. Before this amendment, the Oireachtas claimed jurisdiction over the whole island but only made laws for the 26 counties ‘pending the reintegration of the national territory.’ Now the Oireachtas will continue to be responsible for making laws in the 26 counties (until Irish unity comes about) but will have an input into those cross-border bodies which will exercise power and functions in both states.

Another interesting change to Article 29 is the addition of Section 8 which now permits the Irish State to ‘exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction’ presumably in Northern Ireland, through the cross-border bodies set out in this Agreement.

These constitutional changes will permit the Irish state to overcome the legal barriers which have hitherto prevented its exercising joint authority over the six counties. They do not ‘strengthen the Union ’ nor do they leave Ulsterfolk in peace to determine their own political destiny.


This strand of the Agreement provides for a democratically-elected Assembly

This Assembly is more like a colonial sub-assembly than a normal elected body where the majority party or coalition of parties forms a government. So-called ‘safeguards’ will be built in to any legislation to ensure that all sections of the community can participate’ and that ‘key decisions’ are taken on a ‘cross-community basis’.

A lot of questions here are left in the air. Apart from the election of the Chair of the Assembly, the First and Deputy First Minister, there is no definition of ‘key decisions’. At least 40% of the members of unionist and Irish nationalist designations present and voting will be needed to swing any vote, or a majority of the members of each ‘designation’. This is a recipe for paralysis in government. In addition, the requirement to register a ‘designation of identity’ at the first meeting of the Assembly is the formal institutionalisation of sectarianism.

We note that there is no place for an opposition in this system. All departmental chairs and ministerial posts will be allocated to the elected parties on the basis of their party strengths under the d’Hondt system. This opens up the likelihood of Sinn Féin ministers if that party decides to end its former abstentionist stance. Once such an appointment is made, it cannot be overturned except on the ‘cross-community basis’ already outlined above.

We note that the United Kingdom parliament reserves its rights to make laws for Northern Ireland although the Secretary of State, like a good colonial overlord, will deign to ‘consult’ the Assembly on its proposals. The creation of a consultative Civic Forum of business, trade union and voluntary representatives could have been a positive thing if it were a properly elected vocational senate of the great and the good. In effect though it will be a colonial native council filled by yes men and women of the First and Deputy First Ministers.


The Ulster Independence Movement has no objection to cross-border cooperation on an equal basis between the two states on this island. We do object to the establishment of an embryonic all-island government. The Assembly in Northern Ireland is so entangled with the North South Ministerial Council that it cannot function alone. We strongly object to this. We note that the new NSMC will have its own standing Secretariat staffed jointly by Irish and Northern Ireland civil servants as well as a parliamentary forum which could serve as an all-island parliament in waiting. The list of responsibilities for the NSMC to take over leave very little left.


The proposed ‘Council of the Isles’- the British-Irish Council - appears to have no real functions. Apart from six-monthly meetings to discuss matters of common interest, any member can opt not to participate in anything the Council agrees. This is a luxury denied to the Northern Ireland Assembly in Strand Two. The BIC appears to be a bone thrown to the unionists to keep them happy.

The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference is a very different animal. It maintains Anglo-Irish colonial oversight in recognition of what the Agreement calls ‘the Irish government’s special interest in Northern Ireland. Dublin has a role in devolved matters through the NSMC and in reserved matters such as security and law and order through the intergovernmental conference. We note that this body will have a standing joint Secretariat of officials. Maryfield may well be dead but Maryfield - the Next Generation is to replace it. We note that the Northern Ireland administration will be invited only to ‘express views’ to the intergovernmental conference, thus emphasising its subordinate role in the new order of things. It is certainly not self-determination for the Ulster people in any meaningful sense.


The list of rights and liberties listed in the Agreement are largely unobjectionable. Freedom of thought, religious expression and the right to seek peaceful constitutional change and to be free from sectarian harassment are very important to all citizens as also ought to be the right to free association. The Ulster Independence Movement is concerned about the intention to make public authorities obliged by law to ‘promote equality of opportunity’ in various fields. This looks likely to bring in American-style quotas, ‘set-asides’ and the like. This has poisoned labour relations in America

This is not scare-mongering. The British government is to bring in a new super-quango - the Equality Commission - to replace the present Fair Employment and Equal Opportunities commissions, the Disability Council and the recently formed Commission for Racial Equality. One issue already due for ‘rapid progress is ‘a new more focused Targeting Social Needs initiative and a range of measures aimed at combating unemployment and progressively eliminating the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities'.   How can this be achieved except through formal quotas and set-aside

The Ulster Independence Movement welcomes any regional development

The proposed new Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will keep a watchful eye on the state’s treatment of its residents. It does not seem to have any remit to deal with human rights violations by paramilitary organisations including those affiliated to political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Administration.


After a brief nod to Ulster-Scots and the languages of more recent immigrant British Isles , we have no problem with this in principle. However, instead of bringing all the British Isles . We feel that the Irish language should receive parity of esteem with Scottish Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales - as should Ulster-Scots Scotland itself. Both of these related languages have been Ulster .


The inclusion of this section is merely as a sop to the unionists. It got them off ‘use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years’ of a ‘Yes’ vote in the forthcoming referendum. This is meaningless nonsense. All the participants have to do at the end of this period is to say that they tried to get the groups to decommission arms but unfortunately were unable to succeed. Nobody could do anything to say that they did not try.


We in the Ulster Independence Movement would dearly love above all to see


We agree that the police ought to be professional, effective, fair and impartial and free from partisan political control. For most law and order issues, this is true of the RUC. However, no police force is popular with lawbreakers. The Royal Ulster Constabulary is no exception. Unlike police officers in other parts of the world, RUC constables have been active targets for terrorist attacks and the RUC has been subjected to a massive international propaganda onslaught of vilification over the past three decades. It seems to us that the proposed ‘independent commission’ on policing is at best likely to undermine the role of the RUC. The most likely option is to abolish the RUC altogether. We wonder if the new police force will be ‘more representative in terms of the make-up of the community as a whole’ by recruiting former IRA volunteers as constables.

The Ulster Independence Movement has grave doubts about releasing all prisoners who are members of groups observing a ceasefire and who have been convicted of scheduled offences. All these are likely to be back in the community by June 2000. Some of these prisoners have committed acts so heinous throughout our ongoing conflict that they deserve to be treated as war criminals rather than as simple ‘prisoners of war’. No such prisoner ought to be released, even if the conflict is over.


The Ulster Independence Movement has examined the Mitchell Agreement as outline above. We have recognised some positive aspects to the agreement but these are not sufficient for us to recommend a ‘Yes’ vote. This agreement will not ‘strengthen the Union ’, it will not recognise the right of the Ulster people to May 22nd, 1998 we will call on our supporters to vote ‘No’ in the referendum.

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