Territorial disputes: Northern Ireland (Part 28) [Post 113]

Northern Ireland and self-determination (cont.)

In cases such as Northern Ireland, to grant self-determination in the form of independence would imply an unbalanced situation amongst the involved agents that may create an unnecessary gap between people who have an otherwise peaceful relationship.
The previous posts this week introduced the notion of self-determination and some of the consequences full independence may bring about. The crucial issue is how self-determination is “weighted”—even considered as a right—against public good, general welfare, a fair and just environment for all (not only the majority or any minority). Then, it is not that self-determination is good or bad as a right or as an international remedy per se. Yet, because of the specific situation in which it is applied and the way in which it is used may be.

In cases such as Northern Ireland, a solution between status quo and complete independence should be reached. Some scholars have tried to re-define the idea of self-determination making it more inclusive but somehow giving shape to an eclectic international institution, and that agrees with shared sovereignty:

[…] the right to national self-determination must go beyond self- government but to stop short of statehood, and thus I introduce a modified right to self-determination, which states that all national groups have an equal right to self-determination provided that the realization of the right does not require the acquisition of independent statehood as a necessary condition.”Anna Moltchanova, National Self-determination and Justice in Multinational States (Springer, 2011), in partic. p. xvi and Chapter 5.

Hence, if the relationship between a sovereign State and a large group within its population is already problematic, self-determination leading to independence may in fact be a viable solution. However, in the specific case of Northern Ireland in which the involved agents have a peaceful relationship apart from Brexit, to apply self-determination in the form of independence appears as an inadvisable way of dealing with it.
It goes against that relationship and threatens an otherwise peaceful environment. Nevertheless, if self-determination is understood as the collective right a group has to determine their political status, and this group is willing to accept the claims of other agents, it can be an institution that may offer a positive outcome. Besides, it may lead to shared sovereignty, as the next posts will show.


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


Northern Ireland, self-determination and referendum.                   

Wednesday 03rd June 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s