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Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention
- A Chronology of Main Events



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Text and Research: Martin Melaugh
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Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention - A Chronology of Main Events

1974

Thursday 4 July 1974
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) published a White Paper, The Northern Ireland Constitution (Cmnd. 5675), which set out government plans to hold elections to a Constitutional Convention which would look for an agreed political settlement to the Northern Ireland conflict. [Many elements of previous attempts at a settlement were present in the document including that of power-sharing and the recognition that there should be an Irish dimension. The Act of Parliament which gave effect to the proposals was passed on 17 July 1974.]

Wednesday 17 July 1974
The Westminster Parliament passed the Northern Ireland Act 1974 which contained provisions for the election of a Constitutional Convention on the future government of Northern Ireland. The Convention would elect 78 members by Proportional Representation (PR) (using the STV system) from the 12 Westminster constituencies. [The election was held on 1 May 1975.]

1975

Wednesday 5 February 1975
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) published a discussion paper on power-sharing, The Government of Northern Ireland: A Society Divided. This was the third discussion paper published in advance of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention. Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, announced that new blocks ('H-Blocks') were to be built at the Maze Prison while waiting for a new prison at Maghaberry, County Antrim, to be completed.

Friday 21 February 1975
Robert Lowry, then Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, was appointed as the Chairman of the Constitutional Convention.

Tuesday 25 March 1975
Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, paid a visit to Stormont and announced that an election to the Constitutional Convention would be held in Northern Ireland on 1 May 1975.

Thursday 1 May 1975
Constitution Convention Election
The election for the Constitutional Convention was held in Northern Ireland. The election was based on proportional representation (PR) and candidates contested 78 seats. The United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) won 47 seats (with 54.8 per cent of the first preference vote); the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) won 17 seats (23.7%); The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI) won 8 seats (9.8%); the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI) won 5 seats ((7.7%); and the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) won 1 seat (1.4%). Those elected to the Convention held their first meeting on 8 May 1975. [As the UUUC opposed power-sharing the chance of the convention reaching agreement on a constitutional settlement were very remote from the outset. The convention eventually collapsed in the autumn.]

Thursday 8 May 1975
The first meeting of the Constitutional Convention was held. Roberty Lowry, then Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, chaired the session. [There were 30 sessions in total and the Report of the convention was published on 20 November 1975.]

Friday 7 November 1975
A United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) report was endorsed by a vote at the Constitutional Convention. The Convention voted by 42 to 31 to submit a draft report to the Secretary of State. The report recommended a return to the 'majority rule' system of government for Northern Ireland with the addition of a series of all-party committees to scrutinise the work of departments. [The Report was published on 20 November 1975.]

Monday 17 November 1975
Over the next few days Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, held meetings with local political parties to discuss possible ways forward. [The Report of the Convention was published on 20 November 1975.]

Thursday 20 November 1975
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) published the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention Report. [The Report was debated in the House of Commons on 12 January 1976. The United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) later published a pamphlet entitled 'A Guide to the Convention Report'.]

1976

Monday 12 January 1976
Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, gave a speech to the House of Commons on the Convention Report. He announced that the Constitutional Convention was to be reconvened from 3 February 1976 for a period of four weeks. Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, stated that a United Ireland was not a solution which any British political party would wish to impose on the region.

Tuesday 3 February 1976
The Constitutional Convention was reconvened in an attempt to reach agreement on a constitutional arrangement for Northern Ireland. A series of inter-party talks were held over the next three weeks and these were chaired by Robert Lowry.

Thursday 12 February 1976
Talks between the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) broke down after only an hour. The UUUC would not agree on SDLP involvement in any future Northern Ireland cabinet. [This was a key element as far as Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, was concerned. The final meeting of the Convention took place on 3 March 1976. The British government brought the Convention to an end on 9 March 1976.]

Wednesday 3 March 1976
A further meeting of the Constitutional Convention again called for the return of the Stormont government. The meeting ended in uproar and was to be the last meeting of the Covention. [The British Government brought the Convention to an end on 9 March 1976.]

Tuesday 9 March 1976
Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of State, announced the dissolution of the Constitutional Convention.


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