In the foreword to a new report on the current constitutional position of Northern Ireland, Richard Humphreys – a senior associate research fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, and a judge of the High Court of Ireland – states that although joint authority “is not an inherently terrible idea in some absolute sense,” it forms no part of the Belfast Agreement.
Writing in an academic capacity, Mr Humpreys also ponders whether we “can we banish the bogeyman of a predatory ‘Dublin’ willing to take over Northern Ireland” without agreement.
“As an empirical observation, the political and judicial institutions of the Irish state have no interest whatsoever in taking over control of functions of government in Northern Ireland,” he said.
The report – ‘Constitutional Balance: The Acts of Union and the Principle of Consent’ – has been produced by Jamie Bryson’s Centre for the Union.
Mr Bryson has described Mr Humphreys’ contribution as a “reality check” for those advocating a UK/Dublin joint authority over Northern Ireland.
Earlier this year, the NIO insisted it will not countenance any joint authority arrangement involving the Irish government, even if there is no return to the power-sharing executive at Stormont.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill has said a UK/Irish arrangement could be the only alternative if the devolution impasse continued.
Commenting on the post-Brexit trading arrangements, Mr Humphreys said: “If Northern Ireland is to have the benefit of the single market, it must accept (or the UK state on its behalf must accept) the rules of the game. That is not quite the same thing as handing over sovereignty to a foreign entity.”
In respect of the response to the NI Protocol, Mr Humphrey believes there “may come a point where political unionism may have to say, in effect, that it has taken the protocol issue as far as it can”.
He said: “At that point there might be a need to look for other ways in other contexts to balance and assuage the concerns within unionism/ loyalism. That must be an ongoing conversation.”
Mr Humphreys has identified a number of issues worthy of further attention.
“I think that it can be said that while one can contest some of the legal propositions, this paper does articulate an emotional truth about disillusionment within elements of unionism/ loyalism,” he said.
"That sense of understandings having been betrayed has a psychological resonance even if its legal
scaffolding cannot carry the weight of that conclusion.”
Mr Humphreys also said he would encourage more young unionists/loyalists to consider law as a profession.
He said: "We… live in a highly democratic age, so legal discussion should not be the preserve solely of a limited caste of lawyers.
"Legal executives such as the author, or any intelligent citizen or subject, armed with an understanding of legal reasoning, are legitimate participants in that discourse. Jamie Bryson takes his place in that regard with this paper”.
Mr Bryson has described the contribution of Mr Humphreys as “very significant”.
Mr Bryson said: “Whilst Justice Humphreys critiques some of unionism’s legal arguments, he recognises the ‘emotional impact’ of ‘understandings betrayed’.
“The paper includes detailed arguments on the Acts of Union and principle of consent – the most detailed setting out to date of these key issues in the anti-protocol campaign.
"In emphatic terms, it sets out what is legally required in any legislation presented as a ‘solution’.”
Mr Bryson added: “It is been suggested that the timing of this publication is deeply unhelpful for those seeking to find a compromise solution.
"I certainly hope that is the case; there can be no compromising on the most fundamental of constitutional issues”.
The report is available at www.unionistvoice.com