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About ARINS - Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South

Authoritative, independent and non-partisan analysis and research on constitutional, institutional and policy options for Ireland, north and south.


Recent years have seen growing public debate on future constitutional options for the island of Ireland, north and south. There are strongly held views on whether this debate is necessary or useful at this time. However, given that public discourse has already begun on these issues, the questions they raise cannot be avoided. In Britain, there are similar discussions about the future of the UK itself, and about the meaning and nature of the union.

In January 2020, the Northern Ireland and North/South institutions of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement were restored after three years of suspension. The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a new spotlight on a critical dimension of north/south co-operation. The functioning of the institutions, and the effectiveness of the Agreement more broadly, including how far it is succeeding in its objectives of reconciliation and mutual understanding, are subject to regular debate.

More broadly, 2020 has brought great change to the world as we knew it.

In looking to the future, there are many ‘known unknowns’. For instance, continuing demographic change in Northern Ireland appears likely to increase support for a united Ireland, though opposition also remains firm. Brexit may also contribute to this trend. This could create a situation acknowledged as a possibility in the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, whereby the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would be required to direct the holding of a poll on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. However, the speed, extent and outcome of any such trends are unpredictable.

It is also worth noting, however, that an increased number of people in Northern Ireland voted for non-aligned parties in recent elections; the perspectives of this group on constitutional change are in flux and perhaps very context-specific. Debate in the Republic on the prospect of a united Ireland has been more limited; public concerns are unclear. The new Irish Government has made clear its intention to focus on how to strengthen a “shared island”.

Irrespective of how constitutional questions might develop, it is also essential to understand and assess the functioning of the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions, and to explore whether and how they might be improved and developed, both in the short and the longer term. As part of this exercise, it will be important to map interdependencies and connections within and between Northern Ireland, Ireland and the United Kingdom. These interdependencies arise in many areas, including the political, economic, social and cultural, and in regard to security and justice.

At the moment, therefore, it is far from certain that a referendum on the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will be triggered, let alone what its outcome would be. What can be widely agreed is that holding a referendum in the absence of prior research and informed debate on the options and their consequences would be a disaster.

This is therefore an apt time to launch a project of evidence-based research and analysis on the most significant questions of policy and public debate relating to options for future of the island of Ireland, north and south.

Research questions to be explored range from constitutional and institutional issues, to options for economic, fiscal and social policy, to the accommodation of diverse cultures, identities and symbolism, to the impact of climate and contagion on cooperation across jurisdictions. Relationships within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain will all need consideration in such research. There may be lessons to be drawn from international experience.

Research on these matters is not intended to strengthen or weaken any particular conviction or aspiration, but rather to help create the conditions for better quality debate and decision-making. Regardless of their preferences, policymakers and the public in both jurisdictions should be well informed.

Who are we?

The Royal Irish Academy (RIA) is an all-island body, founded in 1785, that brings together leading scholars and researchers from across the island of Ireland and overseas, and which already plays an active role in many areas of public policy. The RIA has now formed a partnership with the University of Notre Dame, which has a presence in Ireland and a long and distinguished record in Irish studies. This partnership is to plan, support and communicate a wide-ranging programme of research. This research will be rigorous, non-partisan and independent, and will operate to the highest academic standards. We will commission and welcome research from a wide range of scholars in all relevant disciplines. In publishing and publicising that research we will seek to support respectful debate among politicians, within the media and civil society, and among the general public.

The initial programme of research is set out in an editorial in the RIA journal Irish Studies in International Affairs. We are open to dialogue with academic institutions, civil society and others to add other areas of study. Each article we publish in this initial phase will be accompanied by responses, with a short reply from the original author. We will often publish more than one article on a topic.

We recognise the sensitivities around the very process of conducting such research but believe that the need to ensure that all eventualities are anticipated and researched, and that the ensuing debate is informed and comprehensive, takes primacy.

We have grouped the initial programme of research into three broad areas:

Political, constitutional and legal

Issues to be researched may include: changes in demographics, political organisation and public opinion in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, including in the context of Brexit; the conditions under which referendums on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland might be triggered, the preparation of such referendums and the implementation of their results; the comparative international experience of state unification/reunification; possible future models for the island of Ireland, including federal, confederal, and unitary state models, as well as the maintenance of the current constitutional and institutional situation; the implications of each model for the institutions of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, for the protection of human rights, for policing and security, for international relations, and for future relations with the United Kingdom and its component parts.

Economic, financial, social and environmental

Issues to be researched may include: the economic impact of Brexit; divergences and commonalities in social, economic and environmental policy, North and South; existing cooperation and

interdependencies in the all-island economy and in the social and environmental sectors (including public, private and voluntary sectors); the impact of the UK subvention of Northern Ireland and the factors determining its future evolution; the implications of climate change for the island and for all-island cooperation; the impact of constitutional change (under various models) on the economy, on the organisation of the civil and public service, and on economic, financial, social and environmental policy and service provision; in the absence of constitutional change, the future development of north-south cooperation in these areas; the measurement and modelling of wellbeing in both jurisdictions and under different constitutional and economic scenarios.

Cultural and educational

Issues to be researched may include: how the diverse identities and traditions on the island are understood, felt, expressed and promoted, and how they are perceived and understood by those of other traditions; divergences and commonalities in cultural and educational provision and participation, north and south (where culture is understood to include sport); existing cross-border cultural and educational cooperation and exchange; the implications of constitutional change (under various models) for culture and education, particularly with a view to the protection of the diversity of identities and traditions on the island, and to the development of their mutual understanding.


ARINS will assist in supporting projects through a combination of joint research grant applications, support from the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, the Royal Irish Academy and a consortium of industry partners. Read about related projects here.

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