A key theme in the debate about the governance of Northern Ireland is the interpretation of the concept of consent, which lies at the heart of the 1998 Belfast/Good FridayAgreement. Consent is fundamental to any stable form of government, and what was secured in 1998 was a unique accommodation of diverse views that had appeared to be incompatible. Across the world, there are a multitude of examples of actions taken by governments in divided societies which do not have the consent of all groupings. In such societies it often appears impossible to secure a consensus over issues or actions.
When John Hume began to talk in the 1990s of “a chance for peace” he could have only meant one thing: that there were possible circumstances or conditions which, if met, would lead to the Irish republican movement acquiescing with the partition of Ireland. That might have been jarring for some, but what else could have led to peace? – certainly not the imposition of a united Ireland which would then (as in 1912, when unionists opposed Home Rule for the whole of Ireland) have led to violent unionist reaction.
Since that point, the concept of consent, though often little understood, has become central to the establishment of lasting peace. The Constitutional Status of Northern Ireland: Consent, Acquiescence, Subjugation, Indifference seeks to step back from the fraught present context and look at consent and some related concepts in a wider perspective.
This publication presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.