In praise of secular education

I wrote a letter to the Irish Times today.


Patrick Davey (May 30th) claims the right to have his children educated in a religious school. This is as unattainable a “right” as the right to live in a religious town, or to work in a religious factory. A “right” that can only be realised if others are denied their own rights is no right at all. The idea that the majority have more “rights” than minorities do is tyranny, and the removal of a right through effective unavailability is as much a violation as if it were explicitly denied in law.

Secular education is compulsory, and religious education cannot be. By conflating the roles of state school and church school we have created inequality between those of the majority faith and those of other faiths or none. The only way to respect everyone’s rights equally is to separate the roles of Church and State, leaving schools to teach a full secular curriculum to all regardless of faith, and allowing each church to supplement this with its own particular teachings outside school hours as parents wish and free from state interference.

Separation of Church and State is not an attack on religion. It releases everyone, religious and irreligious alike, from the shackles of pretence and hypocrisy. People of faith should follow the example of their brethren other countries and embrace a secular state as the means of their own liberation.


Russian special forces caught red handed on camera

Russia continues to deny that it has armed forces in Crimea, but it was only a matter of time before someone slipped up. Not only do the mysterious “self-defence forces” use Russian guns, uniforms and vehicles (complete with Russian military number plates) but at least one of them has forgotten to take all the identifying labels off his army uniform (Russian language original), leading to a social media profile naming his special forces unit.

Of course Putin doesn’t expect us to believe him. His plausible deniability is entirely for domestic consumption. His own polls show disapproval of his current actions running at an unprecedented 73%. Russians have no appetite for a shooting war with Ukraine, with whose citizens many have close personal and family ties. With chinks starting to show in his story, how long can Putin keep domestic opposition at bay?

(With thanks to @captsolo for the tip)

Anthem anathema

My letter in the Irish Times today. Spelling mistakes all mine, unfortunately.

Sir, – John B Reid seems to be labouring under the mistaken impression that the Irish rugby team is the national team of the Republic of Ireland. If this were the case, then it would be only proper for Amhrán na bFiann to be played at all matches, irrespective of location. But it is not.
As with many other sports, rugby is organised on an all-Ireland basis and the Irish team is not just the team of the Republic, nor even of Irish nationalists, but of the island of Ireland as a whole. Ambiguity between the island and the State is a constant cause of controversy, but the IRFU has correctly recognised that Irish rugby draws support from all traditions on the island.
The current policy that Ireland’s Call be played at away matches is entirely proper, as it reflects the cross-jurisdictional nature of the sport and does not favour one jurisdiction over another. To play the anthem of the Republic in addition at away games would reintroduce politics into a sport that has made a virtue of remaining above the constitutional question.
Amhrán na bFiann is played at home games in the Republic in honour of the State. The only inconsistency in this policy is that no State anthem is played in Belfast, which implies that games in Ravenhill are not “home” games. The honourable solution to this inequity is to play Danny Boy at Ravenhill in the same capacity that Amhrán na bFiann is played in Lansdowne Road’s Aviva Stadium.
Whether or not one finds Ireland’s Call sufficiently rousing, it performs a vital function in keeping divisive politics out of Irish sport. – Yours, etc,
Dublin 14

Bad Samaritans

When I was a university student, a friend and I came home on the train one weekend. The train station in Portadown is situated at the infamous “tunnel”, a pair of low road and railway bridges forming one of the town’s main interface areas. This particular evening was quiet, so there was nobody else around when we came out the pedestrian entrance and turned to walk under the road.

Under the bridge, we saw one man probably in his late twenties beating up another, who was sitting on the ground and making little effort to defend himself. The victim saw us and made eye contact, and pleaded for help.

We walked past and ignored the scene.

Immediately we left the tunnel, we turned to one another and started questioning our actions. We should have helped him. Yes, we should. But we kept walking. When we reached the main street, we flagged down a police car and sent them to the scene. I have no idea what happened next – whether we were quick enough, whether the perpetrator got away. I don’t remember the incident appearing in the local news.

We have never since discussed the incident. I can’t speak for my friend, but I know why I haven’t.

I am ashamed.

Neither of us were ever particularly physical or sporty. We were nice middle-class boys who rarely got involved in fights. Either one of us would have stood little chance against an angry skinhead. Neither of us wanted to get the other one in trouble.

But if we’d had the guts and the attitude, together we probably could have bluffed him. If we’d walked straight up and asked him what the fuck he was doing, the likelihood is that it would have ended in a stalemate and all four people would have walked away.

That’s what I tell myself anyway. I tell myself that all the time.

This week, we are all bad samaritans. The local skinhead is beating up his neighbour for some reason or another. The history is too complicated for most to understand, and it’s easy to find excuses for inaction. But the principle is exactly the same.

I am of course talking about Vladimir Putin. He has form (Georgia 2008) and an often-stated nostalgia for the glory days of the Soviet Union. He knows he will never get it back, but that just makes it worse – all bullies are born from insecurity and a phobia of weakness.

While the West prevaricates, Putin merrily does whatever he pleases. We are weary of war, and cynical of the motives of our own leaders. Putin survives on his reputation as a strong man who will return his people to greatness. He sees us all as cowards. But all that is required is for the neighbourhood to gang up on the local bully and put him in his place. Putin would not risk open war; it would be the end of his career. Russia hasn’t been a great power for many years and Russia would lose. Yes, he has nukes but Putin is a rational man. He is not Kim Jong Un.

The longer we leave it, the worse he will get. This is our Sudetenland.

The Charter of Statehood

States tend to operate on the assumption that they are eternal – so they don’t normally have exit clauses – and can be neurotic about their territorial integrity. The debate over Scottish independence, and its future relations with the EU, has demonstrated once again that an agreed mechanism is required to gently manage the death of states. The attitude of Spanish politicians in particular towards a potentially independent Scotland is motivated not by concern for Scots welfare, but by fear of setting a Caledonian-Catalonian precedent. No matter what one’s views on Scottish independence, the idea that Scotland should be held hostage to a dispute between third parties should be abhorrent.

There follows a modest proposal for a Charter of Statehood, which should be adopted by the member states of the EU. It provides an orderly process for regional secession, combined with a promise by existing powers to act generously in their relations with newly-independent states. In particular, it commits regional bodies to keeping a secessionist state within the fold – for example an independent Scotland (or Catalonia) would be entitled to near-automatic membership of the EU.

It is intentionally limited, and provides for unilateral secession as only one of several options – the intent being that the existence of such a safety valve will normally be sufficient to dissuade brinksmanship. It deliberately does not cover redrawing boundaries to arbitrary levels of precision – unilateral secession can only take place on the basis of existing local government units and only after the formation of a functioning autonomous state on the seceding territory. The final clause commits states to refrain from abolishing local government units for the sole purpose of thwarting secession. The language is also drafted to be portable – it applies equally to the breakup of an autonomous region within a federal state as it does to secession within the EU.

The Charter

  1. For the purposes of this charter, a “state” is a jurisdiction with a body of constitutional law, and both legislative and executive competence over its internal affairs. It need not be sovereign under international law, and may be part of a larger containing state, e.g. a federation.
  2. A state may dissolve itself into multiple states through its own processes. Each new state shall have the right to retain membership of overarching bodies, and these bodies shall provide an equitable mechanism for integrating each new state into their structures as a member of equal standing without undue hindrance or delay.
  3. Two or more states may merge into a combined state by mutual consent, as expressed through their internal processes. The combined state shall have the right to retain membership of any mutually overarching bodies, and these bodies shall update their structures to take account of the union in an equitable manner without undue delay.
  4. A state of more than two years’ standing may unilaterally declare independence from a containing state through its own processes. The containing state shall facilitate such a declaration, however it may impose a reasonable and proportionate transition procedure. The leaving state shall have the right to retain membership of overarching bodies, and these bodies shall provide an equitable mechanism for integrating the state into their structures as a member of equal standing without undue hindrance or delay.
  5. One or more local government areas may individually or collectively declare themselves a state by adopting a constitution through simple ballot of their electorates. Such a constitution must be consistent with both the ECHR and this charter. The containing state shall provide a mechanism to hold such a ballot if a significant fraction of public opinion is shown to be in favour, but may impose reasonable and proportional restrictions on the frequency, timing and conditions of the ballot. Those local government units whose electorates pass a common constitution shall have the right to form a new state on their collective territory subject to that constitution. The containing state shall provide a mechanism for integrating the new state into its structures as an autonomous jurisdiction without undue hindrance or delay.
  6. States shall provide a system of local government with boundaries and functions based on objective economic, social and geographic criteria, while taking due account of the views of the electorate. Local government boundaries must not be altered for the purposes of thwarting the declaration of a state.

Northern Ireland needs a final settlement

It is now fifteen years since the Good Friday Agreement, and seven years since the St Andrews Agreement. Time has moved on, but Northern Ireland is in a rut. Political institutions are bedded in, complete with safeguards against communal domination, but politics has not kept up. Elections are still fought on the basis of Keeping Themmuns in Their Place. Political protests are limited to turf wars over ownership of public space.

What happened to our brave new future?

The mood in NI, beyond the headline-grabbing onanism of dissident republicans and flag protesters, is one of resigned apathy. The deadly combination of fatalism and fear, knowing we can’t go back but unable to see the way forward, keeps NI trapped in a perpetual twilight of political cowardice. The dawn will come, surely? Some say it will come in the east and some say in the west. Best wait, and when we are proven right the doubters will fall silent.

But political dawns do not come from waiting. They come from political will, and Northern Ireland has precious little of that. The temporary twilight becomes a permanent gloom.

Richard Haass is the latest in a long line of the great and good to try his hand at dragging our political donkeys out of the tribal midden. But it is not his job – it is ours. It is the electorate who should be driving change; it is the people who should be demanding better of our political masters. Haass is merely filling in because the electorate have not stepped up. Why else does Northern Ireland see an endless procession of outsiders attempting to save it from itself?

Northern Ireland has not yet grown up. Northern Ireland has not yet taken responsibility for its own future. We cry to Dublin and London to fly in and save us from Themmuns, when the real problem is not Themmuns, but ourselves. It is our lack of belief in ourselves and our own ability to make common cause that leaves us trapped in the trenches of a war now decades in the past. The Agreements gave us political institutions that were safe, non-threatening, almost comfortable. They allowed government to return to Belfast without requiring politicians to change their minds or their behaviour. They ended the war, but they cannot build peace.

The Agreements have fulfilled their function. It is now time to take the next step, and build a final settlement on which a new politics can grow. The old tribal divisions must be cast off; old political parties must be destroyed and new ones allowed to take their place. We, the people must assert ownership of the state and impose upon all our politicians the duty to be servants of all the people, without tribal favour.

The Basic Law of the Commonwealth of Northern Ireland is an outline of just such a final settlement. It is a document of the people, where political institutions are subordinate to the popular will. It is a statement of both rights and duties, of limited government and the separation of church, nation and state. And it is a vehicle in which both unionist and nationalist are free to aspire, without threatening the foundations of our still fragile peace.

In return, each and every political party is required to be broadly representative of the ethnic (and gender) composition of Northern Ireland. Without this requirement, nothing changes and politics remains trapped in the endless twilight. With it, fundamental change is imposed upon politics at the lowest level, and a new future opens up before us.

We must reject Catholic political parties and Protestant political parties, just as we rejected Catholic workplaces and Protestant workplaces. The Agreements reward the victors of the tribal bearpit, silencing those who willingly co-operate and empowering those who must be dragged to the table; the Commonwealth makes tribal co-operation at grassroots level a condition of entry. The Agreements guarantee that all politics is defined along orange-green lines; the Commonwealth encourages politics to realign.

The Commonwealth is an idealistic enterprise, but with a realistic pathway to implementation. All it requires is a majority vote in the Assembly and a referendum; Northern Ireland has done this before and can do it again. It provides a modern, liberal basis for government that both unionists and nationalists can find much to admire in. It copper-fastens the principle that the future of Northern Ireland is in the hands of the people, and protects them from the abuses of power that have been all too common in our long, troubled history.

But most importantly, the Commonwealth gives the people of Northern Ireland a future worth believing in, a goal worth striving for, and the hope that tomorow will finally bring dawn in the North.

P. Equality of Representation (The Commonwealth of NI)

In my previous post (temporarily eaten by wordpress, but now restored), I laid out a proposal for a constitutional settlement that I feel represents the best chance for real political progress in Northern Ireland. It is not a perfect solution by any means, but I have tried to keep the compromises to a minimum. I had intended to write a series of posts walking through the document from start to finish, but based on initial feedback I will start near the end, with the section containing most of those compromises.

P. Equality of Representation

  1. notwithstanding the above, for a period of twenty one years after the establishment of the Commonwealth (unless extended by the consent of the people) the following restrictions on public office shall apply:
  2. all political parties must field an equal number of male and female candidates (plus or minus one) in any election
  3. all political parties must field an equal number of candidates from the Catholic community as from the Protestant community (plus or minus one), as defined in Equal Opportunities legislation, in any election
  4. there shall be no restriction on the number of candidates from neither the Protestant nor Catholic community
  5. the Executive, the Opposition and the Supreme Court shall each contain
    1. the same number of male and female members (plus or minus one)
    2. the same number of Protestant and Catholic members (plus or minus one), as defined by Equal Opportunities legislation
  6. the First Minister and deputy First Minister shall not both be Protestants nor shall they both be Catholics
  7. the Chair and deputy Chair of the Assembly shall not both be Catholics, nor shall they both be Protestants

This section is intended to serve several functions. Firstly, it directly replaces the “ugly scaffolding” currently used at Stormont. Article P5b has a similar effect as the system of designation, except:

  • Members do not designate themselves on political lines but on ethnic lines. Under a “normal” political system we must allow that people’s political views may be swayed by argument.
  • There is no inherent bias against “others” – the only requirement is that Protestants and Catholics are equally represented.
  • There is no assumption that parties are ethnically homogeneous.

This last point is essential, because article P3 goes much further than the current system, and specifically forces all parties to be ethnically inhomogeneous. This addresses the key weakness of Stormont, which is the ossification of the political divide along ethnic lines.

The GFA plucks victors from the sectarian bearpit and forces them to work together in government. Because there is no plausible method for Unionists to vote out a Nationalist party (and vice versa), the political calculation is to mitigate the power of the “other side” by giving them a strong counterbalancing party to share power with. This directly incentivises a retreat into the communal trenches and actively maintains the unreconstructed ethnic base of the major political parties.

In most other advanced democracies, strong party-political ethnic bases are regarded as impediments rather than solutions. It has long been accepted in many countries that rival political parties should make efforts to eat into any ethnic base that their rivals may have, undermining their support among marginal groups. In NI by contrast, there is no sign of any such movement from the major parties, whose outreach efforts appear to be little more than comforting noises aimed at stealing support from more moderate parties on the same side.

I discussed in a previous post the nature of trust in a “normal” democracy and how it fails to work in Stormont. The solution presented there is the basis of section P. Unlike the GFA, which is content to assume that Unionists will be forever the enemies of Nationalists, and seeks merely to bind their hands to stop them harming each other, section P offers a way out of the political impasse. The only way a political party can win power in the Commonwealth is to broaden its membership and stand candidates from both sides. Sinn Fein would be forced to put up Protestants for election, and the DUP would be forced to stand Catholics. If they could not entice enough members from across the ethnic divide they would lose power. Instead of papering over the cracks of politics, change would be introduced at the lowest level.

This has worked before, for employment. Younger readers will not remember (I barely do myself) that for decades many workplaces were as ethnically homogeneous as today’s political parties, even in towns and cities with a mixed population. Fair employment legislation, though an affront to the liberal ideal, works. It is now the accepted norm that workplaces should be ethnically neutral spaces. There is no reason to believe that similar provisions will not work in politics. By enforcing in law what we would expect should happen naturally (if society were to change for the better), we cause a shift in public attitudes that helps bring about the very change that we desire.

Yes, it is an affront. But it is a necessary compromise which will bring about the end of a more dangerous affront – our chronically divided society.

EDIT: For avoidance of confusion I have inserted a new paragraph P4 explicitly stating that there are no restrictions on Others

“Power-sharing creates weak governments; nobody trusts anyone else enough to grant them real power”

The Economist has an interesting article about civil conflicts. It doesn’t mention NI, but one paragraph in particular caught my eye:

One reason for backsliding is that peace often fails to bring the prosperity that might give it lasting value to all sides. Power-sharing creates weak governments; nobody trusts anyone else enough to grant them real power. Poor administration hobbles business. Ethnic mafias become entrenched. Integration is postponed indefinitely. Lacking genuine political competition, with no possibility of decisive electoral victories, public administration in newly pacified nations is often a mess.

The great and good have been flocking to our shores to learn How It Should Be Done. That is justified up to a point, but the really hard work comes after the immediate conflict is over and the threat of violence recedes. How well do we compare against other post-conflict societies in draining the swamp?

How can I trust you if you don’t want my vote?

Politicians are often castigated for appearing to put reelection before principle, for lusting after votes rather than doing what’s best for the country. Sometimes this may be justified, but the lust for votes is not necessarily a bad thing. We should be more worried when politicians stop caring about our votes, because then we have no power over them.

The only true power that the electorate has over its elected representatives is the power to hire and fire. ‘Kick the bastards out!’ is a powerful refrain, but so is ‘Yes we can!’ The relationship between the elector and the elected is, in that one moment in the voting booth, visceral and full of possibility. I do my small part to keep my representative under control because he desires my vote, and my vote could make the difference.

But what of those who I did not vote for, and were still elected? It was no choice of mine whether Enda Kenny or David Cameron was personally elected – I don’t live in either of their constituencies. But plenty of people like me do, and if I have no control at least somebody who agrees with me does. The politician may not care for my vote, but his desire for my fellow elector’s vote is the next best thing.

And his desire for votes makes him trustworthy, because he can be relied upon to look after his own self-interest. It is when he stops caring about our votes that he becomes dangerous, because then we lose the one lever of control at our disposal.

One of democracy’s greatest weaknesses is that politicians are tempted to serve narrow interests instead of the general good. In the USA, gerrymandering has so efficiently filleted the landscape that the average politician no longer needs to worry about the opinions of rival-party or floating voters, and so they no longer have any influence over his behaviour in office. In Northern Ireland, politicians from each side of the ethno-political divide have no real interest in courting votes from themmuns, and so politics takes place largely within rather than between communal blocs.

The end result is the same – if you don’t want my vote, then I have no power over you; and if I have no power over you, I can’t trust you to look after my interests. Lack of trust leads to further polarisation of politics, which discourages politicians from seeking votes across the divide, and so it goes.

The only way to break this cycle is to realign the self-interest of politicians with the interests of a broader section of the electorate. Unlike the US, gerrymandering has not been a serious issue in NI for decades. Instead, the problem is tied up with the low threshold of votes (14.3%) required for election under PR, and the lack of incentive for parties to extend their electoral base. We could abolish PR, but that risks returning us to the bad old days of winner takes all. Alternatively, we could force parties to start seeking votes from themmuns. If the electorate knew that the former enemy needed their votes to survive, they could extract concessions and begin the process of normalizing politics.

So can we force parties to seek votes from themmuns? Directly, no – not without dividing the electorate and holding separate elections in each community, a giant leap in the wrong direction. But we can do it by proxy, by forcing parties to stand themmuns as candidates, in the same way that we could soon be forcing them to stand a reasonable proportion of women. We already have the infrastructure available to vet such candidates in the form of fair employment monitoring, so it wouldn’t be a great stretch to require “fair employment” for electoral candidates.

Of course there is a shortcut to compliance, and that is for broadly equivalent parties from either side of the communal divide to merge. Whether a small party would be content to serve as a figleaf for an unreconstructed partner is questionable, so it would have to be a true partnership of equals. The alternative cheat would be to stand token candidates in unwinnable seats. But few people enjoy playing Uncle Tom, so perhaps the only way to guarantee a sufficient number of candidates would be to start taking the concerns of the other side seriously?

Because if you need ussuns to stand under your banner, we have you over a barrel.

The Commonwealth of Northern Ireland


We, the people of Northern Ireland, believe:

  1. that no form of government is legitimate without the consent of the governed
  2. that the state exists solely to serve the needs of its people, and has no rights or powers other than those granted to it by its people
  3. that all persons are equal before the law
  4. that the separation of Church, Nation and State is essential to the creation of a shared society of equals
  5. that it is the duty of public representatives to exercise their responsibilities in the best interests of all the people, without regard to their political, religious or national allegiance
  6. that all persons have the civic duty to contribute to the process of their own governance, and must be given the means and opportunity to do so in an informed and meaningful way

and acknowledging:

  1. that all forms of government of Northern Ireland to date have fallen short of these ideals
  2. that the current system of government is hostile to the development of a just society
  3. that the people are increasingly alienated from their government
  4. that fundamental change is required, and that change must be brought about from within by the people themselves

we therefore declare the establishment of the Commonwealth of Northern Ireland (“the Commonwealth”), as follows:

Chapter 1: Fundamentals

A. Legitimacy

  1. the Commonwealth shall have jurisdiction over the territory of Northern Ireland
  2. the Commonwealth shall derive its existence and legitimacy solely from the freely expressed consent of the people of Northern Ireland
  3. the Commonwealth may, with the consent of its people, hold membership of a union of jurisdictions, and delegate the powers necessary for that union to function; while reserving the right, with the consent of its people, to resign from that union
  4. the Commonwealth shall not be dissolved except with the consent of its people

B. This Document

  1. this document shall be considered the founding document of the Commonwealth, and may be referred to as the Basic Law
  2. any item in any Act, Order or other legal instrument that is found to be incompatible with this document shall have no effect within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, to the extent of its incompatibility
  3. if the law is found to be insufficient to fulfil the requirements of this document, the Commonwealth shall enact legislation to address that deficiency within ninety days of judgement
  4. this document shall only be amended with the consent of the people of the Commonwealth

C. Consent

  1. where this document requires the consent of the people to be given, the following procedure shall be followed
  2. if a motion to recall a representative of a particular constituency is signed by one tenth of the registered electorate of that constituency, then the Commonwealth shall put that motion to the people of that constituency in a referendum within thirty days
  3. if any other motion requiring the consent of the people is signed by one tenth of the registered electorate of the Commonwealth, or is moved by the Constitutive Council, then the Commonwealth shall put that motion to its people in a referendum within ninety days
  4. the question put to the electorate shall be in plain, neutral language and invite a single answer of either yes or no; if a majority of those voting choose yes, then the motion shall be enacted
  5. no motion requiring the consent of the people shall originate from either the Assembly, the Executive or the judiciary

D. Symbols

  1. the flag of the Commonwealth shall be a flax flower of five blue petals, with a gold hexagonal centre surmounted by a red hand, all on a green field
  2. the anthem of the Commonwealth shall be Danny Boy, set to the melody of the Londonderry Air


Chapter 2: Rights and Duties

E. Human Rights

  1. the Commonwealth shall defend the human rights of all; shall give full effect to those rights in law; and shall provide effective remedy to anyone that has been deprived of those rights
  2. nobody shall be put to death, except where absolutely necessary in defence against immediate and unlawful violence
  3. nobody shall be tortured, or subjected to cruel or inhumane punishment
  4. there shall be no slavery or compulsory labour
  5. nobody shall be deprived of liberty except to facilitate the process of justice
  6. any person detained shall be immediately informed of the reasons for detention; promptly brought before a court of law; and be given a trial within a reasonable time
  7. a detainee shall be entitled to challenge the lawfulness of his detention
  8. any person accused of a crime shall be entitled to:
    1. a full understanding of the accusation and supporting evidence
    2. adequate time and resources to prepare a defence, including the right to legal representation and the right to summon witnesses and evidence
    3. equal opportunity to question and refute the witnesses and evidence presented by the prosecution
  9. everyone shall be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt
  10. nobody shall be compelled to give testimony against himself
  11. all penalties shall be proportional to the gravity of the offence
  12. all judicial proceedings shall be held in public; there shall be no secret courts, evidence or judgements, except where this would compromise an ongoing criminal investigation
  13. everyone has the right to prompt and accessible legal redress
  14. the law shall not be applied retrospectively
  15. the law shall not be applied extraterritorially, except where a person is accused of an act that is a criminal offence both domestically and in the jurisdiction where the act took place
  16. the privacy of all persons shall be respected, except where necessary to facilitate the process of justice
  17. any violation of personal privacy shall be subject to the prior and specific approval of a court of law
  18. everyone has the right to freely identify themselves with the nationality, religion and political beliefs of their choice, and shall not face discrimination on the grounds of that choice
  19. the free expression, publication and exchange of information and opinions shall not be prohibited, except as absolutely necessary:
    1. to safeguard against immediate danger to life or health
    2. to protect personal privacy
    3. to prevent a miscarriage of justice
    4. to safeguard information given in confidence, except where disclosure is in the public interest
    5. to prevent defamation of individuals or groups
  20. everyone has the right to freedom of assembly and association; to join a union or other organisation; and to demonstrate in a peaceful manner
  21. nobody shall be compelled to join an organisation
  22. two consenting, unrelated adults shall have the right to marry and start a family; no body other than the Commonwealth itself shall be compelled to perform a marriage ceremony
  23. nobody shall be prevented from leaving the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, except as necessary to facilitate the process of justice
  24. no adult shall be discriminated against on grounds of age, except where necessary for the provision of pensions
  25. nobody shall be discriminated against on grounds of sex, sexual preference, ethnic origin, social class, wealth, physical or mental impairment, circumstances of birth or family background
  26. children and those with severe mental impairment may be subject to proportionate and reasonable restrictions of their rights as necessary to protect their own welfare or public safety; they must be consulted on decisions being taken on their behalf and have their views taken into account as appropriate for their ability
  27. the law shall not be used as an instrument of fear or intimidation
  28. everyone shall have the right to the ownership of private property; property shall not be expropriated except:
    1. in an equitable manner for the purposes of taxation
    2. with fair compensation for the development of necessary public infrastructure
    3. by order of a court of law for the dispensation of justice
  29. all children shall have the right to education free at the point of use
  30. everyone shall have the right to emergency healthcare free at the point of use
  31. everyone shall have the right to seek employment on the basis of their ability, and to receive equitable payment for their labour
  32. everyone shall have the right to safe working conditions and reasonable working hours
  33. nobody shall be allowed to fall into destitution
  34. the omission of a right from this document shall not imply that such a right does not exist

F. Citizenship

  1. all persons legally resident within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth shall be considered citizens of the Commonwealth, in addition to any other citizenship they may hold
  2. Commonwealth citizenship shall be the only citizenship recognised by the Commonwealth for any purposes other than immigration control
  3. Commonwealth citizenship shall not be revoked, except after prolonged absence
  4. all adult citizens shall have the right and duty to vote
  5. it shall be an offence to wilfully fail to vote at an election or referendum mandated by this document

G. Institutions of State

  1. the Commonwealth reserves the right to legislate for the operation of its own institutions, subject only to the limits placed upon it by its people through this document
  2. the Commonwealth shall inherit all the institutions and assets of the previous administration; these shall continue to function as provided for by law, unless amended herein
  3. all elections and referenda mandated by this document shall take place across a consecutive Saturday and Sunday

H. Good Governance

  1. the Commonwealth shall promptly publish all information in its possession in machine readable format and free of charge, except where publication would violate personal privacy, compromise ongoing negotiations or criminal investigations, or lead to a miscarriage of justice
  2. the Commonwealth shall at all times consider only universal moral principles, and shall not give undue weight to any particular religious doctrine
  3. the Commonwealth shall not make exemptions from general principle for any particular religious, ethnic or political group
  4. neither the Commonwealth nor any body established by statute, nor any body funded by the Commonwealth shall fund or mandate any form of religious worship or instruction
  5. the Commonwealth shall at all times take due consideration of the best available scientific evidence
  6. the Commonwealth shall repeal any legislation that proves unnecessary or harmful, or that no longer operates in the intended manner
  7. all Commonwealth legislation, other than repeals of previous legislation, shall be valid for no longer than one hundred years
  8. the Commonwealth shall ensure that all legislation is written in plain language
  9. the Commonwealth shall uphold the human rights of those outside its jurisdiction, as it would uphold the rights of its own people
  10. the Commonwealth shall not pay unvouched expenses
  11. The Ministerial Pledge of Office and Ministerial Code of Conduct, as defined in the Multi-Party Agreement of 10 April 1998, shall be annexed to this document
  12. Ministers shall be required to affirm the Ministerial Pledge of Office as a condition of their appointment
  13. no elected public official shall be eligible for severance payments

I. Taxation

  1. all taxation, excise duties and statutory fees levied within the Commonwealth shall be imposed by and owed to the Commonwealth alone
  2. the Commonwealth commits to pay on behalf of its people the value of any taxes, excise duties or statutory fees owed due to its membership of a union of jurisdictions
  3. the Commonwealth shall not enter into any unfunded pension commitment
  4. neither the Commonwealth nor any body established by statute shall issue debt

Chapter 3: Operation of the Institutions of State

J. The Assembly

  1. there shall be an Assembly of no less than eighty and no more than one hundred members
  2. Assembly constituencies shall be of equal size and representation, and shall return no less than four and no more than six members each by PR(STV)
  3. the Assembly shall have full authority to legislate on behalf of the Commonwealth, subject only to the restrictions imposed in this document
  4. the Assembly shall be dissolved if:
    1. the Assembly fails to elect an Executive within thirty days of its first sitting, or within thirty days of the previous Executive being dissolved
    2. the Assembly fails to pass a budget before the beginning of the financial year or thirty days after its first sitting, whichever comes later
    3. the Assembly fails to pass legislation as required under section B within ninety days of judgement or ninety days after its first sitting, whichever comes later
  5. otherwise, the Assembly shall be dissolved in the fourth year after its first sitting, on the last Friday in April
  6. a general election to a new Assembly must be held within thirty days of the dissolution of the previous Assembly
  7. any vacancy in the Assembly must be filled within thirty days by by-election
  8. by-elections to the Assembly shall be held by the Alternative Vote method (single seat STV)
  9. all ballot papers for elections to the Assembly shall have “none of the above” appearing as if it were a candidate for election; in the event that “none of the above” gains a plurality of first preference votes, the election in that constituency shall be declared null and void, and shall be run again within thirty days with none of the previous candidates permitted to stand for the Assembly again for the remainder of its term
  10. the chair and deputy chair of the Assembly shall be elected jointly by the Assembly from its members
  11. all motions in the Assembly shall require a simple majority; community designation and petitions of concern shall be abolished
  12. any MLA may bring a motion to the floor of the Assembly
  13. MLAs shall be paid two and a half times the median gross wage of the Commonwealth, to be calculated annually
  14. MLAs shall hold no other public office during their tenure
  15. an MLA may be recalled by the consent of the people of that constituency; a by-election shall then be held, with the recalled MLA barred from standing for the Assembly again for the remainder of its term
  16. all parties standing candidates for the Assembly must publish their accounts for the previous five years, including the names of all donors
  17. all election campaigns must be paid for from identifiable campaign funds; all campaign fund accounts must be published, including the names of all donors

K. The Executive and other Committees

  1. there shall be an Executive consisting of a First Minister, a deputy First Minister and one additional Minister for each government department
  2. the Executive acting as a body shall have full executive authority over the government of the Commonwealth, subject to the restrictions placed upon it by this document
  3. the Executive, including the First Minister and deputy First Minister, shall be elected as a body by majority vote of the Assembly
  4. any vacancy in the Executive shall be filled by cooption within fourteen days
  5. the Executive shall be dissolved if it loses the confidence of the Assembly
  6. there shall be a committee of Assembly members for each government department; each committee shall have the power to
    1. audit the functioning of that department, including allocation of budget
    2. approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation
    3. call for persons and papers
    4. initiate enquiries and make reports
    5. consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by its Minister
  7. other committees may be established by the Assembly as required
  8. The Chairs and Deputy Chairs of the Assembly Committees will be allocated using the d’Hondt system
  9. parties represented in the Executive shall have their representation weighted by one half when allocating committee chairs and deputy chairs; otherwise chairs shall be allocated proportionally to party representation in the Assembly
  10. there shall be an Opposition, including a Leader of the Opposition and deputy Leader of the Opposition, which shall be elected as a body by majority vote of those MLAs who did not vote in favour of the current Executive
  11. the Opposition shall have equal opportunity to speak and propose legislation as the Executive, and shall be granted sufficient resources to enable it to use that opportunity productively
  12. Ministers shall be paid in total no more than twice the salary of an MLA
  13. a Minister may be removed by a confidence vote in the Assembly
  14. a Minister may be recalled by the consent of the people of the Commonwealth; the recalled Minister shall be barred from Executive membership for the remainder of the Assembly term
  15. any Minister judged to have breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct shall be barred from Executive membership for the remainder of the Assembly term

L. The Supreme Court

  1. there shall be a Supreme Court of the Commonwealth consisting of five members
  2. any vacancy in the Supreme Court must be filled within thirty days
  3. members of the Supreme Court shall be elected individually by the judiciary of the Commonwealth from its own membership, using the Alternative Vote method in one constituency
  4. no Supreme Court judge may be a member of a political party
  5. the Supreme Court shall have sole jurisdiction over the interpretation of this document
  6. Supreme Court judges shall be paid twice the salary of an MLA
  7. a Supreme Court judge may be recalled by the consent of the people of the Commonwealth; no recalled judge shall be eligible for reelection to the Supreme Court
  8. Supreme Court judges may not be removed by any other method

M. The Constitutive Council

  1. every twentieth year after the declaration of the Commonwealth, a Constitutive Council of one hundred members shall be chosen from the registered electorate of the Commonwealth by sortition
  2. no sitting judge, nor any elected public representative shall be eligible for membership of the Constitutive Council
  3. the Constitutive Council shall operate as a jury under the supervision of the Supreme Court, and sit for a period of no more than one year
  4. the Constitutive Council shall draw up a list of motions to be put to the people by the consent procedure above
  5. the Constitutive Council shall be provided with sufficient resources, including independent qualified legal advice, to perform its duties
  6. members of the Constitutive Council shall be paid their current wage plus one half the salary of an MLA
  7. nobody shall refuse to serve on the Constitutive Council except due to incapacity; incapable members shall be replaced within seven days by sortition

Chapter 4: Relationship with Other Jurisdictions

N. The United Kingdom

  1. Northern Ireland shall be a constituent country of the UK
  2. the Commonwealth shall delegate sufficient powers to the institutions of the UK so that they may perform their legal duties
  3. no Act, Order or other legal instrument of the UK shall invalidate any provision of this document

O. The Republic of Ireland

  1. the Commonwealth shall co-operate with the Republic of Ireland through the North South Ministerial Council, and any other mechanism as provided by law
  2. the Commonwealth shall delegate sufficient powers to the Council and its institutions so that they may perform their legal duties
  3. all Council decisions shall be made on the basis of mutual agreement between equal jurisdictions

Chapter 5: Temporary Provisions

P. Equality of Representation

  1. notwithstanding the above, for a period of twenty one years after the establishment of the Commonwealth (unless extended by the consent of the people) the following restrictions on public office shall apply:
  2. all political parties must field an equal number of male and female candidates (plus or minus one) in any election
  3. all political parties must field an equal number of candidates from the Catholic community as from the Protestant community (plus or minus one), as defined in Equal Opportunities legislation, in any election
  4. there shall be no restriction on the number of candidates from neither the Protestant nor Catholic community
  5. the Executive, the Opposition and the Supreme Court shall each contain
    1. the same number of male and female members (plus or minus one)
    2. the same number of Protestant and Catholic members (plus or minus one), as defined by Equal Opportunities legislation
  6. the First Minister and deputy First Minister shall not both be Protestants nor shall they both be Catholics
  7. the Chair and deputy Chair of the Assembly shall not both be Catholics, nor shall they both be Protestants

Q. Transition of Power

  1. the Commonwealth shall be established once a referendum to that effect is passed under the consent procedure above; however the restriction that no motion requiring consent can originate in the Assembly shall not apply
  2. a transitional period of between twelve and eighteen months shall be provided after establishment for enabling legislation to be passed under existing procedures; during this time the institutions of state shall operate as per existing legislation
  3. the initial membership of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the judiciary within twelve months of establishment using PR(STV) in one constituency, with the following modifications:
    1. once three men (or three women) are elected, all other men (or women) shall be eliminated
    2. once two Catholics (or two Protestants, or two neither) are elected, all other Catholics (or Protestants, or neither) shall be eliminated
    3. if any seat remains unfilled, it shall be treated as a new vacancy and filled by the usual method
  4. the Supreme Court shall act in a shadow capacity until the transitional period ends
  5. if no enabling legislation is passed by the end of twelve months, the Commonwealth shall enact such legislation on its own behalf within a further six months
  6. once enabling legislation is passed into law, the transitional period shall be terminated, the Assembly shall be dissolved and the Supreme Court shall assume its full responsibilities