NI may have to be excluded from post-independence UK dialogue

editorial image

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) believes Northern Ireland may have to be excluded from a UK-wide constitutional convention if the Scots vote for independence because the power-sharing settlement here depends on the support of Dublin, the Sentinel can reveal.

An internal NIO briefing paper, which has been obtained by the paper, believes there may be ‘considerable difficulties’ in including Northern Ireland in such a convention involving England and Wales.

According to the briefing, which was released under the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation: “There may be merit in having a comprehensive conversation about the kind of United Kingdom that we want to see.

“But it would be better to have this discussion once the Scottish referendum debate has come to a conclusion. There are also specific concerns for Northern Ireland, where the settlement was reached with the involvement of both main parts of the community, and the Irish as well as the British Government; and endorsed by referendums both in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“This could lead to considerable difficulties in including it in any broad-ranging constitutional convention, which did not involve these players and thresholds of support.”

The same briefing paper, which was compiled in October 2012, warns that care must be taken not to fall into gaping ‘elephant traps’ that could be created by independence.

The NIO, however, refused to spell out what these ‘elephant traps’ were. It says releasing details could impinge on its ability to frankly provide advice and exchange views for the purposes of pursuing Government policy.

It does, however, acknowledge that: “Independence for Scotland would have far-reaching consequences for the whole of the United Kingdom, and would perhaps be felt most in areas under devolved administration. How this would affect views on the status of Northern Ireland would depend on how independence played out in Scotland.”

It also states that: ”Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of people in Northern Ireland favour the status quo. We would not, therefore, expect to hold a referendum in the near future.”

Another internal NIO briefing document from November last year entitled, ‘The Scottish Independence White Paper - the NI Dimension,’ also refused to release details on the ‘possible implications for NI’ for fear it could interfere with the ‘formulation of government policy.’

But the document states: “There does not appear, at least initially, to have been any great deal of engagement from the local political parties with the detail contained in Scotland’s Future.”

That’s in spite of the fact that a Yes vote, will spell the end of the Union, which was established between Scotland and England in 1707.

That Act of Union (1707) created Great Britain, and Great Britain is the legal entity with which Ireland (1800) and later Northern Ireland is united.

The document also takes consideration of Scottish unionist Hamish MacDonnell’s view that independence would have a “profound psychological and symbolic effect [on Northern Ireland] of having ‘foreign’ country on its east coast, and to the south (RoI).”

It also cites Mr McDonnell’s opinion that it is “implicit that the UK might like to change flag post-independence; questions how amended Union Flag or a replacement would be accepted by ‘some of the more passionate unionists in Northern Ireland.’”