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Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland
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Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

The Nineteenth Amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann, the constitution of the Republic of Ireland, introduced changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution required by the 1998 Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement). Prior to 1999, Articles 2 and 3 made the controversial claim that the whole island of Ireland formed one single "national territory". By means of the Nineteenth Amendment Articles 2 and 3 were changed to an aspiration towards creating a united Ireland by peaceful means.

The Nineteenth Amendment was approved by referendum in 1998. However the Irish Government did not want the changes to Articles 2 and 3 to be made until it could confirm that other aspects of the Belfast Agreement had been complied with. For this reason the Nineteenth Amendment did not itself alter Articles 2 and 3. Rather it introduced a special mechanism whereby changes to Articles 2 and 3 could be brought about at a future date by a formal declaration made by the Government.

The Nineteenth Amendment was approved by referendum on 22nd May, 1998 and signed into law on 3rd June of the same year. The Government declaration was made on 2nd December, 1999, bringing the changes to Articles 2 and 3 and certain other parts of the constitution into effect.

Table of contents
1 Initial changes to the text made by the Nineteenth Amendment (1998)
2 Subsequent changes effected upon Government declaration (1999)
3 Overview
4 Related topics
5 External links

Initial changes to the text made by the Nineteenth Amendment (1998)

The Nineteenth Amendment introduced Article 29, Section 7 to the constitution. Subsections 1 and 2 are here reproduced in full. Subsection 3 is a long subsection detailing further changes to be made, both to the English and Irish language texts of the constitution, once the Government issued a formal declaration that the Belfast Agreement had come into effect. Subsection 3 is therefore too long to be fully reproduced here. The 'activating' provisions are given below while the further changes to be made to the English version of the text upon the Government's declaration are detailed further below. All of the provisions in italics were temporary and, under their own terms, were removed by the Government declaration in 1999.

Insertion of new Article 29.7

1. The State may consent to be bound by the British-Irish Agreement done at Belfast on the 10th day of April, 1998, hereinafter called the Agreement.

2. Any institution established by or under the Agreement may exercise the powers and functions thereby conferred on it in respect of all or any part of the island of Ireland notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution conferring a like power or function on any person or any organ of State appointed under or created or established by or under this Constitution. Any power or function conferred on such an institution in relation to the settlement or resolution of disputes or controversies may be in addition to or in substitution for any like power or function conferred by this Constitution on any such person or organ of State as aforesaid.

3. If the Government declare that the State has become obliged, pursuant to the Agreement, to give effect to the amendment of this Constitution referred to therein, then, notwithstanding Article 46 hereof, this Constitution shall be amended as follows:

[See further below for these changes]

4. If a declaration under this section is made, this subsection and subsection 3, other than the amendment of this Constitution effected thereby, and subsection 5, of this section shall be omitted from every official text of this Constitution published thereafter, but notwithstanding such omission this section shall continue to have the force of law.

5. If such a declaration is not made within twelve months of this section being added to this Constitution or such longer period as may be provided for by law, this section shall cease to have effect and shall be omitted from every official text of this Constitution published thereafter.

Subsequent changes effected upon Government declaration (1999)

Articles 2 and 3 (before)

1. The national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland, its islands and the territorial seas.

2. Pending the re-integration of the national territory, and without prejudice to the right of the Parliament and Government established by this Constitution to exercise jurisdiction over the whole of that territory, the laws enacted by that Parliament shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws of Saorstát Éireann and the like extra-territorial effect.

Articles 2 and 3 (after)

1. It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. Furthermore, the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.

2.1. It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions, recognising that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island. Until then, the laws enacted by the Parliament established by this Constitution shall have the like area and extent of application as the laws enacted by the Parliament that existed immediately before the coming into operation of this Constitution.

2.2. Institutions with executive powers and functions that are shared between those jurisdictions may be established by their respective responsible authorities for stated purposes and may exercise powers and functions in respect of all or any part of the island.

Insertion of new Article 29.8

The State may exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction in accordance with the generally recognised principles of international law.

Changes to Article 29.7


The amendment of Articles 2 and 3 was demanded by Unionists during negotiations leading to the Belfast Agreement. The Government declaration implementing the changes to Articles 2 and 3 also added a new provision (Article 29.8) related to the state's extra-territorial jurisdiction. The declaration furthermore operated to remove from the official text those provisions that had provided the temporary mechanism for Article 2 and 3's amendment. However, it was stated that these provision would continue to have effect, in so far as the changes they had brought about to other articles would continue to be valid. It should be noted that, while all of the changes shown in this article are changes made to the English language version of the constitution, constitutionally it is the Irish text of the constitution that has precedence.

The Nineteenth Amendment was introduced by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition government of Bertie Ahern, but was supported by all major political parties. When put to a referendum it was overwhelming endorsed by 1,442,583 (94.4%) votes in favour to 85,748 (5.6%) against.

Related topics

External links

Preceded by:
18th Amendment (1998)
Amendments of the Constitution of Ireland Followed by:
20th Amendment (1999)