The Good Friday Agreement Referendum

Turnout in Northern Ireland was remarkably high (81.1%) and turnout was fairly consistent across Northern Ireland compared to many elections where turnout is highest in highly nationalist regions and significantly lower in unionist regions. It is estimated that about 147,000 people who do not normally participate in the elections participated in the referendum, most of them in traditionally fixed unionist areas. In the Republic, the participation rate was lower (56.3%). [1] Mr. McCartney rejected the deal and described it as an “attempt to buy the IRA, not to establish peace.” Former UUP leader Jim Molyneaux also rejected the peace deal. The only two parties to the forum to fight against the deal were the Democratic Unionist Party and the Unionist Party of the United Kingdom, although many prominent people in the Ulster Unionists did. Some smaller parties opposed. Republican Sinn Féin, which did not run candidates in Northern Ireland at the time, is still opposed to the deal. The agreement called for the creation of an independent commission to audit police rules in Northern Ireland, “including ways to promote broad community support” for these agreements. The UK government has also pledged to “carry out a comprehensive review” of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.

19 The question of the Irish border after the referendum must be regarded as an integral part of that phenomenon and not as a whole new issue. The difficulty of finding an amicable solution to the Irish border problem is just another consequence of the sectarian polarisation that has been entrenched in Northern Irish politics since 1998. Although there was a 56% Community majority in Northern Ireland in favour of remaining and although after the referendum the two sides frankly agreed on the need to keep the border open, notably for economic and trade reasons26, it proved absolutely impossible to transform this fragile consensus into a long-term united-party and Community front on the border issue. The main obstacle to this front was the persistent divergence over the constitutional position of the border between the two sides of the sectarian divide. After the Brexit referendum, Sinn Fein, followed by the SDLP, quickly called for a Border poll to reunite Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. On the Unionist side, the DUP and the UUP have reiterated aloud their demand to remain in the Irish Sea an integral and undifferentiated part of the United Kingdom without borders. After more than twenty years of political cooperation between local elites within a power-sharing democracy in Northern Ireland, there has been no real rapprochement between the two communities on the fundamental question of the constitutional status of the Irish dividing border. However, not all victims of the previous three decades of violence were convinced by the agreement and, in particular, by the element that prematurely released the prisoners. Who are these people? The data is rather meagre, but I can make some inferences. There is a noticeable anti-correlation with the size of nationalist voices.

The closer the SDLP and sf met in June 1998, the closer the two turnout rates are. I think it`s a pretty safe bet that most of the people who voted for the SDLP and Sinn Fein also voted in the referendum.