In Northern Ireland, mention of constitutional change normally means just one thing: United Kingdom versus United Ireland. The ‘constitutional question’ that this juxtaposition connotes – whether or not a majority of the people in Northern Ireland will ever opt to leave the UK in favour of (re)joining Ireland – is not, however, the focus of this paper.
While not seeking to discount or relegate the potential for constitutional change in Northern Ireland that would arise from a future ‘border poll’ referendum, the premise of this report – by guest author and Queen's University Belfast research fellow, Lisa Whitten, as part of the Institute for Government–Bennett Institute Review of the UK Constitution – is that it is not the only kind of constitutional change that is possible in or important for Northern Ireland.
To this end, this paper has three aims:
- to give a concise account of the constitutional history and particularities of Northern Ireland in the wider UK constitutional context
- to explore the most pressing governance challenges in Northern Ireland today that arise, directly and indirectly, from its unique constitutional arrangements
- to consider how those challenges could be mitigated and/or resolved through constitutional reforms that are short of, and without prejudice to, the possibility of that constitutional question being brought to the fore in a future border poll.