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 THE BALD TERRITORIAL claim over Ulster in Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution has gone. David Trimble is delighted. Fair enough, such a move is long overdue and, on the face of it, most welcome. However, the existence of these articles has up to now prevented any formal joint exercise of authority or executive powers by the ‘two sovereign 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 seems fair enough and of itself is no longer a claim on our six counties. It also recognises the special affinity of the Irish nation with its diaspora. It is entirely a matter for Leinster House to identify with Irish ethnic minority groups in Ulster and overseas and is 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. As Nigel Dodds of the DUP has pointed out, this defines self-determination in terms of 'the people of Ireland' not the people of Northern Ireland. 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.

   It follows on from this that 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 input into those cross-border bodies that will  exercise power and functions in both states.

  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 - the two houses of the Leinster   House parliament -will be taken over by such bodies. This could become a framework for an all-island parliament in which the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Oireachtas would be subordinate.

  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 that have hitherto prevented its exercising joint authority over the six counties. The Assembly and the new Executive can't exist without North-South bodies. Dublin's foot is now in the door with a guaranteed role.

   All-island bodies will lock Ulster more firmly into an Irish political and economic context. They do not 'strengthen the Union' nor do they leave Ulsterfolk in peace to determine their own political destiny, no matter what the Trimbleistas claim. Norman Tebbit had it right when he claimed that the Dublin government now had the power to 'interfere in the government of Northern Ireland… There is now a process, which looks to be inexorable, towards the union of Ireland.'

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