Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland May 22, 1998

Theme/ Question

Under the agreement approved in May 22, 1998 a new local assembly would be created to legislate many matters in the province. A North-South Ministerial Council would bring together lawmakers from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic to discuss matters of mutual interest, and a new Council of the Isles would encourage policy cooperation between the British and Irish governments. The Republic removed territorial claims from its constitution. The question was “Do you support the agreement reached in the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland and set out in Command Paper 3883?”

Eligibility to vote and electoral design

Separate referendums took place in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In the latter, there was no requirement for double majority but majority support in both the Catholic and Protestant communities was considered crucial for the effective enactment of the planned governmental changes. A failure to gain majority support among both groups would likely have crippled the planned Northern Ireland Assembly.

Supporters vs. Opponents

Most leading political figures in Britain and Ireland supported and hailed the strong support the peace plan garnered in the referenda. The Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), one of Northern Ireland's Protestant unionist paramilitary groups, May 15 declared a cease-fire. The same day, however, the group called on voters to reject the peace agreement in the upcoming referendum .

Rev. Ian D. Paisley the longtime militant Protestant leader kept the Democratic Unionist Party out of the talks and called his voters to reject the agreement. 

Outcome

In Northern Ireland, 676,966 voters, or 71.1% of the total, backed the peace plan, while 274,879 (28.9%) opposed it. In the separate referendum in the Republic of Ireland 1,442,583 voters, or 94.4% of the total, backed the agreement, and only 85,748 (5.6%) opposed the plan.

Other relevant information

Results of the voting in Northern Ireland were not officially broken down by religious background, but an exit poll conducted by Coopers & Lybrand found that the peace agreement had gained majority support from both Catholics and Protestants. Of the Catholics polled, 96% said they had cast "yes" votes in favor of the plan, and 4% said they had voted against it. Some 55% of Protestants in the exit poll said they had voted for the agreement, while 45% said they had voted against it.

Sources:
Facts on File World News Digest, <http://www.2facts.com>.
Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Reports
Lexis/Nexis & Factiva
Interviews with Policymakers

Suggested Citation: Neophytos G. Loizides, Referendums in Peace Processes Dataset, Queen's University Belfast (available online at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentrefortheStudyofEthnicConflict/TeachingResearch/Datasets/ReferendumsinPeaceProcesses/#d.en.173183)