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2 April 1998 Edition

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Alarm in FF over Articles 2 & 3

By Micheál Mac Donncha

All week Bertie Ahern has been meeting Fianna Fáil TDs in an urgent attempt to reassure them about Articles 2 and 3. This is because several of them have aired their worries in public and alarm is rising over what their leader may be about to give away.

Up to last week, when they got a briefing from Bertie, the Parliamentary Party, technically the policy-making body of Fianna Fáil, had not even discussed the peace talks, including amending Articles 2 and 3. So much for democracy.

Part of Bertie's reassurance to his party, it seems, was the proposal for five-yearly referendums on the status of the Six Counties which he confirmed in a media interview at the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body on Monday.

In Leinster House on Tuesday, however, Ahern was under pressure from John Bruton and Proinsias de Rossa over this proposal as they claimed it would cause ``instability'' to any new set-up in the North. The Taoiseach then watered down his proposal, saying it had been discussed, was non-controversial and may or may not happen.

Even if the referendums proposition stands it would be extreme folly for Fianna Fáil supporters to vote to redefine the national territory as anything other than the whole island, and to remove the constitutional assertion of the right to Irish unity and independence, in the hope that demographics in the Six Counties will eventually change the situation.

The proposed replacements for Articles 2 & 3 revealed in the Sunday Business Post certainly do remove the assertion of the right to unity and sovereignty.

Article 2 would carry no definition of the national territory at all. Article 3 would say it is the ``firm will'' of the Irish nation to unite the people of the island of Ireland but ``a United Ireland can only be brought about with consent of the majority of the people democratically expressed in each of the jurisdictions of the island''.

While these Irish drafts have been leaked there has been a total absense of any indication of what changes in British law are proposed. Amending Section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act would not be enough as the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 would still stand and this asserts the sovereignty of the British parliament and also guarantees a unionist veto. The veto is dressed up as consent and all the British are prepared to do at the moment is to change the dress.

Arriving at the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body meeting on Sunday evening Caoimhghín O Caoláin said the proposed changes to Articles 2 and 3 would be ``totally unacceptable''. He said:

``The removal of the clear definition of the national territory in Article 2 runs contrary to broad nationalist opinion throughout Ireland.

``The proposed replacement for Article Three would put the unionist veto into the Constitution. It would not only leave uncontested, but actually reinforce, the British claim to sovereignty over the Six Counties.

``It is clear that the British government does not propose at this time to remove the claim of jurisdiction by the British Crown and Parliament over the Six Counties. Nor is it yet prepared to place the issue of consent in an all-Ireland context, with recognition of the right of the nationalist community in the North not to be forced to live in a state which does not have their consent.

``In these circumstances the proposed changes to Articles 2 and 3 would be a major step backwards and they should be opposed by all democratic opinion''.
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