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Government postpones Articles 2 & 3 changes

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Legislation to delay amendments to the controversial Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution has been introduced by the government as the trigger mechanism for the changes are due to expire next month.

As part of the Good Friday peace agreement, the articles are to be changed to remove claims to sovereignty over the Six Counties.

Since they were introduced in the 1937 constitution, the articles have traditionally been strongly supported by nationalists and republicans but have angered unionists.

Article 2 claims the national territory of the Republic consists of the "whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas" and Article 3 aspires to reunification of the island.

The peace agreement changes would substitute new articles. These would make reunification contingent on consent and change the definition of the country from it’s territory to its people.

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A new article would also cede sovereignty in certain areas to proposed cross-border bodies.

The changes were to be triggered when all over elements of the complex interlocking Northern Ireland peace deal had been implemented.

However, agreement on a ruling executive in Belfast remains bogged down in a row about the handover of paramilitary arms and explosives.

The legal mechanism to allow Ireland’s constitutional changes was due to lapse on June 2 unless all elements of the accord were in place.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the new law will extend the period for 12 months.

He said the extension was "not an indication of the failure of the agreement. . . . Nor is to be taken a signal that the government believes that 12 months will be needed to overcome current difficulties. On the contrary, our efforts are focused on a much shorter time frame."

Ahern said there were other provisions in the agreement that involve periods of two years from the date of signing, the expiring of which would broadly coincide with the expiring of the new extension.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has already announced he plans to trigger mechanisms for the devolution of power to Northern Ireland on June 30.

"We are working to achieve this," Ahern said.

The extension will not mean the changes to Articles 2 and 3 will be put back 12 months. Ahern said that as soon as all other elements of the peace agreement are in place the constitutional amendments would come into force without delay.

In introducing the legislation, Ahern also expressed concern about continuing loyalist attacks on Catholics.

"There is a very worrying pattern of sectarian violence against Catholics across the northern and eastern parts of Northern Ireland," he said. "The continuing sectarian harassment and intimidation of the people of the Garvaghy Road is entirely unacceptable.

"Direct dialogue between residents and the Orange Order is the obvious way forward, but, whether direct or indirect, dialogue is essential.

"The sense of threat, the siege that arises from sectarian attacks on nationalist communities must be lifted, with a focus on conditions needed not only to restore normal rights of freedom of movement and freedom of harassment but also to improve community relations."

The taoiseach said that if dialogue can take place between unionists and nationalists, republicans and loyalists at all levels, then the Orange Order can speak to the communities through which they want to march.

"The principle of consent applies to that situation, as much as it does to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland," Ahern said. "The principle of equality, so central to the Good Friday Agreement, must also apply. No genuine cultural identity should act in an aggressive or threatening manner towards those who do not share it."

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