The vague wording of some so-called ”constructive ambiguities” helped ensure the adoption of the agreement and delayed debate on some of the most controversial issues. These include extra-military dismantling, police reform and the standardisation of Northern Ireland. The agreement was approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums on 22 May 1998. In Northern Ireland, in the 1998 referendum on the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, voters were asked if they supported the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters were asked whether they would allow the state to sign the agreement and authorize the necessary constitutional changes (nineteen constitutional amendments from Ireland) to facilitate it. The citizens of both countries had to approve the agreement to implement it. The agreement reaffirmed its commitment to ”mutual respect, civil rights and religious freedoms for all within the Community.” The multi-party agreement recognized ”the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance with regard to linguistic diversity,” particularly with regard to the Irish language, Ulster Scots and the languages of other ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland, ”all of which are part of the cultural richness of the Island of Ireland.” Fourth, and often overlooked, legislation is needed for unification. Referendums in the North and South would not be enough for unification; Each government is required to introduce legislation on uniformity. If the United Kingdom and the Irish government reach an agreement on the form of unification, there will be few difficulties.
However, an agreement cannot be expected to be simple. The Brexit process shows how difficult it can be for two sides to agree on the terms of separation. Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, for all its shortcomings, at least clearly clarified the legal consequence of a failure of an agreement. The GFA does not provide for such a provision. Secondly, the approval of unification in Northern Ireland requires a referendum. However, the agreement does not specify what mechanism is needed in the South. I have suggested elsewhere that, although the South can allow union without a referendum, the extent of the constitutional revision that accompanies it would almost certainly require a referendum. This referendum could either amend or replace the current Constitution. In the 2016 EU referendum, 58% of Northern Ireland voters voted to remain in the EU. This result and the continuing uncertainty over the effects of Brexit on the Irish border have led to calls for a rethinking of Northern Ireland`s constitutional future. It is traditionally interpreted that a Scottish referendum would require the approval of the Minister for the West and not just the Scottish Parliament, but this has not been considered in court and Nicola Sturgeon has not ruled out a legal challenge.
As the debate over referendums and border elections has intensified in the UK, some have seen the courts as potential arbiters. During the Brexit negotiations, many in Northern Ireland felt that the London government was ignoring the impact of Brexit on the region, particularly the border regions. This was particularly highlighted by Sinn Féin`s representatives in Northern Ireland. ”Irish interests have never been served at Westminster,” Michelle O`Neill, Sinn Fein`s vice-president and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, told TIME in September. ”There is no attempt to understand what this means here for the people and for the peace process. Ministers demonstrated around ministers and MPs after Mp demonstrated their ruthless approach to the Good Friday agreement. With regard to the constitutional question of whether Northern Ireland should remain in the United Kingdom or whether it should be part of a unified Ireland, it was agreed that there would be no change without the agreement of the majority.