To Ourselves, Article Three

3.1. It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island. Until then, the laws enacted by the Parliament established by this Constitution shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws enacted by the Parliament that existed immediately before the coming into operation of this Constitution.

3.2. Institutions with executive powers and functions that are shared between those jurisdictions may be established by their respective responsible authorities for stated purposes and may exercise powers and functions in respect of all or any part of the island.

We cannot analyze this article without looking at the original text (in conjunction with Article 2)

Pending the re-integration of the national territory, and without prejudice to the right of the Parliament and Government established by this Constitution to exercise jurisdiction over the whole of that territory, the laws enacted by that Parliament shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws of Saorstát Éireann and the like extra-territorial effect.

Articles Two and Three were, historically, the most controversial parts of the constitution. We claim territorial and legal right over the entire island, north and south. Right or wrong, it was a bold and defiant gesture, one we couldn’t hope to back up politically or militarily. These two articles together contributed to the growing divide between north and south, annoying unionists. The articles preached a message of unification but only helped exacerbate tensions between the south and the north.

In the lead up to the Good Friday agreement, this was a huge caveat for the Unionists. They couldn’t tolerate such a blatant constitutional attack. Its change, approved by a gigantic majority of the Irish population, was an absolute necessity in the peace process. Let’s look at the new text.

It remains “our firm will” to achieve the unification of north and south, but as of the nineteenth amendment we will do so only with the express permission and assent of the populations on both sides of the border. It’s a vital recognition of the democratic system. We recognise the north as a separate political entity with its own diversity and tradition. We recognise that some may not want reunification anytime soon. It’s a win for both sides and a defeat for militant groups on either side of the republican/unionist divide.

“Until then…”  We still take it as a matter of fact that unification will happen at some point, an opinion I happen to share. Before it happens, our laws will apply to the 26 counties only.

3.2 opens the way for institutions and organisations to exist that comprise members from, and affect, the entire island. The North/South Ministerial Council is the most obvious result of this article. Its crucial: cross border bodies have failed utterly in the past (like the Council Of Ireland which collapsed so spectacularly in 73) It’s a measure of the commitment both sides were willing to make in order for the agreement to work.

Considering what we gained from the Good Friday agreement: devolution, power sharing, police reform, commitment to peaceful democracy, and the beginning of the end of Northern militant activity…I’d say giving up two antiquated and ill-conceived articles isn’t bad.

If anyone thinks otherwise, you’re badly outnumbered. 94% of the electorate approved the changing of the articles. How many political issues do you think would gain that kind of support nowadays?

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