UCL News


UCL launches public consultation on the prospect of an Irish unity referendum

22 July 2020

A major public consultation to get a wide range of views on the prospect of an Irish border poll has been launched today by a working group established by UCL’s Constitution Unit.


Citizens and civil society groups from across Northern Ireland are being invited to share their hopes, concerns and thoughts on the format and conduct of any future referendum on the question of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status.

A referendum on Irish unification is envisaged in certain circumstances by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is obliged to call such a vote if a majority for a united Ireland appears likely.

Recent developments may have increased the chances that this condition could be met in the coming years. Yet no detailed public thinking has been done on what form the vote could take. 

The ‘Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland’, established by UCL’s Constitution Unit in partnership with universities in Belfast, Dublin and the United States, is part of a 2-year project funded by British Academy and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

It seeks to put the necessary thinking in place to ensure that, should any referendum be called, the process could be conducted in a way that maintained legitimacy and political stability.

The Working Group is independent of all governments and political parties and includes 13 members who are experts in politics, law, sociology, and history. Besides UCL, they are based at Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The project will not take a view on whether such a vote would be desirable or what the outcome should be. It only examines what the process of any such referendum would involve.

Project lead, Dr Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of UCL Constitution Unit, said: “We’re at a really important stage in our project. Following intensive discussions among ourselves and with a range of politicians and other key stakeholders, we are now widening the conversation to hear the views of people throughout Northern Ireland. This stage will play a critical role in informing our research. We look forward to hearing the views of as many people as possible.”

Working Group member Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and External Affairs) at Ulster University adds: “It is really important that any decisions about Northern Ireland’s future are informed not only by independent, rigorous research, but also by the diversity of views and voices of the public. Because of this, we want to ensure that the multiplicity of perspectives on the possibility of a future referendum on Northern Ireland’s constitutional status is captured and reflected in the report of the Working Group.”

Consultation responses will be reflected in the Working Group’s final report, but individual responses will be anonymous.

The online survey can be completed here. It closes on 2 September.



  • Credit: UCL Constitution Unit

Natasha Downes

+44 20 3108 3844

n.downes [at] ucl.ac.uk