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(ii) Direct rule
The ¬rst period of direct rule ran from 1972 to 1974. A considerable amount of
time was given at Westminster to legislation for Northern Ireland (Acts and
Orders in Council). A Northern Ireland (Border Poll) Act 1972 provided for a
referendum in the province on the question whether Northern Ireland should
remain part of the United Kingdom or be joined with the Republic of Ireland.
In the ˜border poll™ of March 1973, only 58.7 per cent of the electorate cast their
votes (nationalist political leaders had urged their supporters not to vote):
591,820 voted to remain part of the United Kingdom, 6,463 to join with the
Republic of Ireland.
A new system of devolution, based on the principle of power-sharing
between the two communities, was instituted by the Northern Ireland
Constitution Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973. There
was to be an Assembly, with legislative powers, elected by proportional repre-
sentation, and an Executive constituted from parties representative of both
communities. The Assembly was duly elected and the Secretary of State
appointed an Executive, composed of members of the O¬cial Unionist
Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance Party.
The leaders of these parties joined with ministers of the United Kingdom
and Irish Governments in a conference at Sunningdale in December 1973,
and agreement was reached on the formation of a Council of Ireland which
would be an instrument for cooperation between the province and the
Republic.
This ¬rst attempt to achieve an inter-communal constitutional settlement in
Northern Ireland collapsed when a general strike of loyalist workers organised
by the Ulster Workers™ Council brought down the Executive in May 1974, after
only ¬ve months. The Assembly was dissolved and direct rule from Whitehall
was resumed under arrangements made by the Northern Ireland Act 1974.
Direct rule was to have been for an ˜interim period™ of one year but was extended
annually by orders made under the Act, in the conviction that a return to single-
party government in Northern Ireland would o¬er no prospect of a solution to
the problems of the province.
Renewed attempts were made to devise a scheme of devolved government
which would have broad support in the two communities. A Northern Ireland
Assembly was reconstituted by the Northern Ireland Act 1982 with scrutinising,
deliberative and consultative functions and a requirement to bring forward pro-
posals for a broadly acceptable scheme of devolution. Within a few years the
endeavour broke down in dissension and the Assembly was dissolved by Order
in Council in 1986. Direct rule continued until 1998.
Under the system of direct rule the government of Northern Ireland was the
responsibility of a Secretary of State, assisted latterly by four subordinate min-
isters. Policy on law and order, constitutional development, etc was directed by
the Northern Ireland O¬ce in Whitehall; departments in Belfast (sta¬ed by the
Northern Ireland Civil Service, which is a distinct service under the Crown)
233 Devolution and the structure of the UK


administered agriculture, economic development, education, the environment,
and health and social services.
Acts of Parliament might be enacted for or extend to Northern Ireland, but
the Northern Ireland Act 1974 conferred a wide power to legislate speci¬cally
for Northern Ireland by Order in Council, subject to a¬rmative resolutions of
both Houses of Parliament, and this was the method usually adopted. Various
other enactments, however, allowed the ˜negative resolution™ procedure “ with
less scope for parliamentary control (see below, p 457) “ to be used for Orders
in Council relating to Northern Ireland.
The representation of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom Parliament
was increased by the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1979, in
providing that the number of constituencies for Northern Ireland should be
seventeen, unless the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland should ¬nd
it necessary to vary this number to sixteen or eighteen for the time being.
(Equivalent provision is now made by the Parliamentary Constituencies Act
1986, Schedule 2, r 1(4).) There are at present eighteen Northern Ireland seats
in the House of Commons.
A Northern Ireland Grand Committee was established in the House of
Commons, consisting of all MPs for Northern Ireland constituencies and up to
twenty-¬ve other members. Its business has included the holding of short
debates, hearing ministerial statements, putting Questions to ministers for oral
answer and considering bills, proposed Orders in Council and statutory instru-
ments relating to Northern Ireland. A select committee on Northern Ireland
A¬airs was constituted to examine the expenditure, administration and policy
of the Northern Ireland O¬ce and the Northern Ireland departments in Belfast.
Both committees continue to have a role, under new standing orders, in the
devolution settlement (below).
Direct rule was unavoidable while agreement could not be reached on
a system of devolved government with broad support in the two communities,
but it lacked legitimacy in Northern Ireland, was wanting in democratic cre-
dentials and did not assure the e¬ective accountability of government.

(iii) Renewed search for a settlement
In the 1980s and 1990s the United Kingdom Government sought the active
cooperation of the Government of the Republic of Ireland in the quest for
a political settlement.
On 15 November 1985, at an inter-governmental meeting held at
Hillsborough Castle near Belfast, a formal and binding agreement was signed
by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Taoiseach of the Republic
of Ireland (Cmnd 9657). The Anglo-Irish Agreement provided for improved
cooperation between the North and South of Ireland in cross-border security
and other matters, and set up an Intergovernmental Conference which would
meet regularly and be concerned with Northern Ireland a¬airs and with
relations between the two parts of the island of Ireland.
234 British Government and the Constitution


The Agreement was unwelcome to Unionists in Northern Ireland and
members of the Ulster Unionist Council sought leave to apply for judicial review
to challenge its implementation, principally on the ground that the proposed
Intergovernmental Conference ˜would amount to the establishment in the United
Kingdom of a new standing body for the purpose of in¬‚uencing the conduct of
the government without the authority of the Queen in Parliament, and would be
contrary to law™. In Ex p Molyneaux [1986] 1 WLR 331, the court refused leave to
apply, holding that the establishment of the Intergovernmental Conference,
which would have no legislative or executive power, did not contravene ˜any
statute, any rule of common law or any constitutional convention™.
Among changes that were in¬‚uenced by the discussions in the Inter-
governmental Conference may be instanced the enactment of the Fair
Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, strengthening the existing legisla-
tion to eliminate religious discrimination and promote equality in employ-
ment, as well as the repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern
Ireland) 1954, the establishment of an Independent Commission for Police
Complaints and the introduction of a Code of Conduct for the Royal Ulster
Constabulary (as it then was).
In the 1990s discussions continued with the main parties in Northern Ireland
on new political institutions for the province and between the United Kingdom
and Irish Governments on ˜fundamental aspects of relationships within the
island of Ireland™ and new structures for cooperation between the two
Governments. Despite the IRA™s repudiation in 1996 of the ¬rst ˜cease¬re™ main-
tained by the nationalist and loyalist armed movements since 1994, a continuing
e¬ort was made to proceed with negotiations between all democratically man-
dated political parties in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland (Entry to
Negotiations, etc) Act 1996 made provision for negotiations to take place between
elected delegates of Northern Ireland political parties that had expressed their
commitment to democracy and non-violence (the ˜Mitchell principles™).
Representatives of the British and Irish Governments would also take part. The
all-party negotiations, which began in June 1996, were intended to lead to ˜a com-
prehensive political settlement in relation to Northern Ireland™. Initially they
showed little promise of doing so but an impetus to progress was given by
a renewed cease¬re by the IRA on 20 July 1997, in response to a more ¬‚exible
approach taken by the British Government to the Northern Ireland question after
the 1997 general election. Agreement “ styled ˜the Multi-Party Agreement™ and
since known as the Belfast Agreement (or Good Friday Agreement) “ was reached
by the participants in the talks on 10 April 1998 (Cm 3883/1998). It set out the
agreed arrangements for the devolution of legislative and executive powers to an
elected Northern Ireland Assembly. At the same time a new Agreement was con-
cluded between the British and Irish Governments, replacing the Anglo-Irish
Agreement of 1985. It entered into force on 2 December 1999.
Writing in 2001, Brendan O™Leary said of the British-Irish Agreement (or
Treaty) and the Multi-Party (Belfast) Agreement that they represented ˜the most
235 Devolution and the structure of the UK


comprehensive, ambitious, and successful attempt at constitutional con¬‚ict
regulation of the last three decades™ (in A Reynolds (ed), The Architecture of
Democracy (2002), p 294).

Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland,
Cm 4705/2000, Article 1

The two Governments:

(i) recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the
people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to
support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland;
(ii) recognise that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between
the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of
self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and
South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must
be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a major-
ity of the people of Northern Ireland;
(iii) acknowledge that while a substantial section of the people in Northern Ireland share
the legitimate wish of a majority of the people of the island of Ireland for a united
Ireland, the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exer-
cised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and accordingly, that Northern Ireland™s
status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would
be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent
of a majority of its people;
(iv) affirm that, if in the future, the people of the island of Ireland exercise their right of
self-determination on the basis set out in sections (i) and (ii) above to bring about a
united Ireland, it will be a binding obligation on both Governments to introduce and
support in their respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish;
(v) affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern
Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be
exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their
identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and
equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for
all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity,
ethos and aspirations of both communities;
(vi) recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and
be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm
that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments
and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.


In Article 2 the two Governments undertook to support and implement the
provisions of the Belfast Agreement.
236 British Government and the Constitution


A referendum was held in Northern Ireland on 22 May 1998 in accordance
with the Northern Ireland Negotiations (Referendum) Order 1998, SI 1998/1126
(made under power conferred by section 4 of the Northern Ireland (Entry to
Negotiations, etc) Act 1996). Of the 81 per cent of electors who voted on the
question whether they supported the Belfast Agreement, 71 per cent expressed
their support. In a simultaneous referendum held in the Republic of Ireland,
94 per cent of those voting approved the changes to the Irish Constitution,
acknowledging the existing status of Northern Ireland, that were required by the
Agreement.
Following the approval of the Belfast Agreement in the referendum, a new
Northern Ireland Assembly was elected by proportional representation (single
transferable vote) on 25 June 1998, in accordance with the Northern Ireland
(Elections) Act 1998. It was initially to be a ˜shadow™ Assembly, which would
settle its standing orders and working practices and elect a First Minister and
Deputy First Minister. Provision for the devolution of legislative and executive
powers to the Assembly was made subsequently by the Northern Ireland Act
1998. Devolved government was to be brought into operation once it appeared
to the Secretary of State that ˜su¬cient progress has been made in implement-
ing the Belfast Agreement™ (Northern Ireland Act 1998, s 3). In November 1999
the Secretary of State determined that there had been su¬cient progress and
an Order in Council made under section 3 brought devolution into e¬ect on
2 December 1999. The devolved institutions assumed their functions, but
a continuing political failure to achieve full implementation of the Belfast
Agreement, marked by dissension in regard to decommissioning of arms,
demilitarisation and policing arrangements, as well as outbreaks of paramili-
tary activity, resulted in repeated suspensions of devolved government, the last
of which, on 15 October 2002, has continued to the present time. Direct rule
has been resumed, with legislation by Order in Council in matters that would
have been within the competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The commitment of the British and Irish Governments to renewed e¬orts to
reach a settlement was expressed in a Joint Declaration in April 2003. This was
followed in December 2004 by joint proposals of the two Governments for
a comprehensive agreement that would lead to the restoration of devolved
government. Discussions continued on the issues that divide the parties. A
momentous event occurred in July 2005 when the IRA announced an end to its
armed campaign and in September 2005 the Independent Commission on
Decommissioning (the de Chastelain Commission) reported “ and con¬rmed
in a further report in January 2006 “ that the IRA had put all its arms beyond
use. A signi¬cant step was taken by the British Government in including provi-
sion in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 for the devo-
lution of policing and justice functions (for long a source of contention) to the
Assembly when reconstituted.
The Northern Ireland Act 2006 provides for meetings to be held of the exist-
ing members of the (suspended) Northern Ireland Assembly for the purpose of
237 Devolution and the structure of the UK


selecting a First Minister and Deputy First Minister before a deadline of
25 November 2006. Intensive talks were held in St Andrews, Scotland, between
the British and Irish Governments and the various Northern Ireland parties in
October 2006, designed to facilitate the meeting of the 25 November deadline.
In the St Andrews Agreement of 13 October 2006 the two Governments
rea¬rmed their full commitment to the ˜fundamental principles™ of the Belfast
(or Good Friday) Agreement:

consent for constitutional change, commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic
means, stable inclusive partnership government, a balanced institutional accommodation of
the key relationships with Northern Ireland, between North and South and within these
islands, and for equality and human rights at the heart of the new dispensation in Northern
Ireland.

The St Andrews Agreement sets out a rigid timetable for the restoration of
devolved power in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland parties are required
to con¬rm their acceptance of the Agreement by 10 November 2006; the
Assembly will then meet to nominate the First Minister and Deputy First
Minister on 24 November 2006; there will then follow some form of electoral
endorsement of the St Andrews Agreement (either by way of referendum or
through fresh Assembly elections) in March 2007; following such endorsement
power will be devolved with e¬ect from 26 March 2007.
Since the end of 2004 the two Governments have made it clear that failure to
meet the 25 November 2006 deadline would result in the immediate dissolution
of the Assembly. It is reiterated in the St Andrews Agreement that failure ˜at any
stage™ to agree on the establishment of the Executive will have the same result.
In this event, Northern Ireland would be governed not on a scheme of devolu-
tion, but on the basis of new British-Irish partnership arrangements “ a revised
form of direct rule that would substantially involve Dublin in aspects of the gov-
ernment of Northern Ireland. This, at the time of writing, appears to be the
choice facing Northern Ireland: devolution with the DUP and Sinn Fein as the
largest parties (meaning, presumably, that Ian Paisley would be First Minister
and Martin McGuinness Deputy First Minister), or a new form of joint direct
rule between the British and Irish Governments.

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