Peace in Northern Ireland
Joint sovereignty is the key to lasting peace in Northern Ireland. With joint sovereignty, the two countries, the United Kingdom and Ireland, share sovereignty in the territory. With complete joint sovereignty, those living in the territory may choose whether to be a citizen of the UK or of Ireland.
The people of Northern Ireland will soon decide whether to take a step towards joint sovereignty as a solution to the 30 years of conflict they call "the Troubles." The violence extended to England, which has suffered from bomb attacks, including a bombing in London in 1996 which ended a cease-fire.
On April 10, leaders of the Catholic and Protestant communities of Northern Ireland endorsed an agreement to secure peace by sharing political power. This agreement would not only resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland, but finally bring to an end the greater historical clash between the English and the Irish that goes back to the invasions by the English centuries ago.
On April 11, the executive committee of the Ulster Unionist Party, the largest protestant political party, voted to support the pact. Other parties, including the major Catholic party Sinn Fein, endorsed it as well. The agreement will be submitted to the wider membership of the parties and needs to be ratified by referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on May 22.
The agreement provides for a Northern Ireland assembly, a legislature with voting rules that would safeguard against the domination of the minority Catholics. A North-South council would provide for joint policy by the assembly and the Irish parliament. There would also be an East-West Council with representatives from Northern Ireland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and British lawmakers.
The agreement allows for the possibility that Northern Ireland could merge with the Republic of Ireland, though that is unlikely. Extremists on both sides remain opposed to power sharing. Such opposition defeated the "Sunningdale Agreement," an attempt at peace in 1973 which also sought to establish a link between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
The Irish and British should consider full joint sovereignty as a lasting solution to the conflict. With joint sovereignty, the Protestants would not have to face the prospect of having to be citizens of Ireland, since they could remain British subjects. But the Catholics could become citizens of the Republic of Ireland. The Catholics and Protestants would each have a governing council, and there would be a third, joint, council, the assembly as proposed by the agreement. There would be parallel institutions such as schools and courts, and both the Irish and English languages would be official. There would be currency and postage from both countries. The concept is already being practiced in the small nation of Andorra, where both France and Spain have sovereignty.
Sharing sovereignty is an aspect of sharing the land. A deeper sharing of the land would make it the common property of all the people of Northern Ireland. The common ownership would be implemented by collecting the rent from the holders of land titles, using the rent for the revenue of the local governments. Sharing the rent would help cement the peace, since violence against one side would reduce the rent that the other side obtains.
So this agreement is a step towards peace, but the conditions for a lasting solution to the conflict have not quite been achieved. The governments and people of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland should consider shared sovereignty as the cornerstone of a lasting peace between these two ancient folk, the Irish and the English.