Letter: Bridging the divide with all-Ireland citizens' rights

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The Independent Online
Sir: It should be possible to meet the Irish aspirations of the nationalists and to create the parity between the two communities that Brendan O'Leary seeks ('Steps towards a constitutional compromise', 28 January) without upgrading Dublin's power in Northern Ireland and so provoking the loyalist backlash that Richard English (Letters, 3 February) rightly fears.

Individual citizens of Northern Ireland could enjoy full citizens' rights in both countries. For example, they could be eligible for higher education in either the UK or the republic on the same terms as British or Irish applicants; when abroad, they could avail themselves of the consular facilities of either country. It would be desirable to give citizens of Northern Ireland voting rights in the republic similar to those they now have in the United Kingdom.

An obvious problem is that representatives from the north would form a much larger proportion of an all-Irish parliament than they do at Westminster, and their potential influence could be thought excessive. It would be for the republic to say what safeguards might be in order. One solution might be to limit the kinds of legislation on which representatives from the north would be allowed to vote; another might be to allow northern representatives to sit in the Seanad but not in the Dail.

Parties to a contract could choose whether it was to be governed by British or Irish law, but the criminal law cannot allow for individual choice. Where there are differences in the criminal laws of the United Kingdom and the republic, the Northern Ireland Assembly could decide which was to apply. Instead of appeals going to London or Dublin, there could be a new Northern Irish Supreme Court, with judges drawn from any common law country.

Administratively, Northern Ireland could be autonomous, as to a large extent it already is, but a locally elected governor, or chief magistrate, would replace the Secretary of State. Administrative autonomy need not preclude continuing subventions from the United Kingdom.

In the changed circumstances, the RUC should be able to attract Catholic as well as Protestant recruits. There might be no need to call on the military in support of the civil power, but the constitution must allow for the possibility, nevertheless. Neither the British nor the Irish armies can play this role. For all the proud record of both armies in the world's other trouble spots, in Northern Ireland the ancient antagonisms are too strong. Tho obvious source is Europe. For the time being, if need arose, the chief magistrate could appeal directly to European heads of state; in the future, perhaps, to a European security force.

Would the Europeans be prepared to take on this thankless role? If the Community is to be more than a consumers' association, there must be some readiness to face risk and danger. The risk is also likely to be small. With the British Army withdrawn, the IRA would lose its raison d'etre and its appeal to the romantic young. The Protestant paramilitaries would lose their raison d'etre as well. Revenge killings between the two groups might continue for some time, but only at the level of gang warfare, unrelated to any political or moral cause.

Yours faithfully,

STEPHEN PLOWDEN

London, NW1

5 February

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