Department of Political Science


Preparing For A Northern Ireland Border Poll

1 February 2020

Recent developments mean there is a real chance that a ‘border poll’ on the future status of Northern Ireland may happen in the coming years.

northern ireland border

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement and subsequent legislation empower the Secretary of State to call such a poll, and indeed require him/her to do so if a majority for a united Ireland appears likely. But they say almost nothing about how such a poll should be conducted. Without proper planning, there is a risk of a chaotic poll, of the results not being accepted as legitimate, and of Northern Ireland descending into disorder, or even civil unrest. Neither the British nor the Irish government can plan for a border poll, because they desperately hope it won’t happen. Our project is intended to fill the gap by identifying, assessing, and encouraging discussion of the options.

Project aims

The project thus has two core aims:

  1. To develop concrete recommendations on how any future ‘border poll’ on the status of Northern Ireland should be conducted.
  2. To foster awareness and discussion of the options among policy-makers and wider publics in Northern Ireland, Great Britain, and Ireland.

Project structure

Corresponding to these two aims, the project has two components. In summary:

  1. We will convene a group of leading experts based in London, Belfast, and Dublin, working with a Research Assistant and engaging with others, to identify issues that need to be considered, examine options, and make recommendations. The primary output will be a report, to be published jointly by the Constitution Unit and our partners in autumn 2020.
  2. We will promote awareness and discussion of the project among policy-makers, commentators, and publics in Northern Ireland and beyond. We will do this through activity on our own media channels, external media, public events, and private meetings.

  • Grant title: Preparing For A Northern Ireland Border Poll
  • Start date: 01/02/20
  • End date: 08/03/21
  • Sponsor: Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
  • Principal investigator: Dr Alan Renwick