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Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention Report, 20 November 1975



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Text: Northern Ireland Office (NIO) ... Page Compiled: Brendan Lynn

 

NORTHERN IRELAND CONSTITUTIONAL
CONVENTION

REPORT

Together with the Proceedings of the Convention
and other Appendices

Presented to Parliament pursuant to
Section 2(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1974


Ordered by The House of Commons to be printed
20 November 1975

LONDON
HER MAJESTY'S STATIONARY OFFICE
£2.45 net

 


 

TERMS OF REFERENCE

The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention was established under Section 2(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 "for the purpose of considering what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there".

 


 

8 November 1975.

The Rt. Hon. Merlyn Rees, M.P.,
One of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State,
Northern Ireland Office,
Stormont Castle,
Belfast,
BT4 3 ST.

Sir,

In accordance with the provisions of Section 2(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, I have the honour to transmit to you on behalf of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention the Report on its Conclusions.

I have the honour to be,
Sir,
Your obedient servant,
ROBERT LOWRY,
Chairman.

 


 

CONTENTS

 

      Frontispiece     Names of Convention Members

      Report

      Part I

        The Historical background
        The Course of the Convention

      Part II

        Proposals of the Parties and Recommendations
        Constitutional Basis
        Form of Legislature and Franchise
        Functions to be Devolved
        Formation of Northern Ireland Government
        Committees
        United Kingdom—Northern Ireland Financial Relationships
        Human Rights
        External Relationships

      Part III

        The Way Ahead: Continuing Political Activity

      Part IV

        List of Conclusions Reached by the Convention

      Appendices

        1     Manifestos
        2     Policy Documents
        3     Proposals in Principle (a summary is published in Appendix 7)
        4     Analysis of Election Results and Membership
        5     Proceedings of the Convention
        6     Draft Constitution Bill
        7     Summary of Proposals in Principle

 


 

The Rt. Hon. Merlyn Rees, M.P.,
One of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State,
Northern Ireland Office,
Stormont Castle,
Belfast,
BT4 3 ST.

1. The Northern Ireland Convention has completed its work. It herewith reports its conclusions to you, and through you to Parliament.

 

PART I

THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

2. The Convention considers it desirable, before dealing with the main content of its Report, to go briefly into the historical background. There is a tendency to project the values and controversies of the present into the past. It is important before dealing with present problems to explain the historical context more adequately.

Composition of the Community

3. To look simply in the seventeenth century for the roots of recent conflict in Northern Ireland is quite unrealistic. The absence in the small pre-Plantation population of a modern nationalistic sense of identity, and hence a low resistance to social, linguistic, cultural and religious absorption, the intermingling of people, the continuous arrival of numerous immigrants from Britain, and a considerable influx of later-newcomers from other parts of Ireland, have all united to obliterate the lines of division which existed in 1610. Earlier this year (1975), Professor J. C. Beckett, Professor of Irish History at Queen’s University, Belfast, a scholar always dissociated from party politics, took a public opportunity, in a contribution on the political situation to the Annual Report of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, to dismiss as quite fallacious the application to the contemporary social and political scene of a theory of "planters" and "natives".

4. Equally to be dismissed is a social theory of "two communities", based on a supposed long-standing identity of political orientation with religious affiliation. All over the world political movements have sought to strengthen themselves by making common cause with sectarian movements and vice versa, and this has certainly occurred in Ulster. But the facts of history refute the notion that there has been anything like the complete identification which might bethought to indicate a separate "community".

Past Patterns of Political Response

5. A government publication of this year sets out some easily obtainable research material bearing on this matter. In a blue book entitled "The Northern Ireland General Elections of 1973" (Cmnd. 5851) it is shown that, in all the Northern Ireland general elections from 1929 to 1969 inclusive, the average vote for the Nationalist and Republican candidates - the candidates seeking to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Free State or Republic - was only 14.6 per cent. of the total vote. Even if it is assumed that all who voted for those candidates were Roman Catholics, this would indicate that only two-fifths of the Roman Catholic voters were at that time positively oriented towards the Republic in political aspirations.

6. This position is confirmed by Northern Ireland results in Westminster elections, particularly those in which every seat was contested, as in 1959 when the Republican vote was only 11 per cent, or in 1964 when it was 59 per cent. And an opinion poll in 1973 showed only 39 per cent. of Roman Catholic respondents desiring "a united Ireland".

Towards United Community Participation

7. There is also evidence that there is in Northern Ireland a shared sense of identity which cuts across religious differences. When Professor Richard Rose published, in his book "Governing without Consensus" (1971), the results of a widely based social survey made in 1968, he showed that a very large majority of the Roman Catholic respondents regarded their Protestant neighbours as more like themselves than their own co-religionists in the Irish Republic and an equally large majority of the Protestants regarded their Roman Catholic neighbours as more like themselves than Protestants in Britain. There is ample reason to believe that this is still true.

8. These historical and social facts made it clear that the type of constitution which, in certain other countries, has been devised to provide for two or more communities, which are clearly separated from one another by language or race or geographical location, would be quite inappropriate for Northern Ireland. Indeed to impose such a constitution, or any constitution devised on a theory of "two communities", would be disruptive and divisive in effect and widely unacceptable.

9. These considerations lie behind the view, embodied in concrete proposals in this Report, that the right form of constitution is one which will give every member of the legislature not only the opportunity, but also the responsibility and duty of becoming much more fully involved in parliamentary decision-making, supervision of administration and scrutiny of new legislation than is the case at Westminster.

Relations with the Irish Republic

10. A further aspect of the historical past is also highly relevant to the present task of constitution making. This is the history of the Ulster community’s relations with its nearest neighbour. In the Government’s White Paper of July, 1974, entitled "The Northern Ireland Constitution" (Cmnd. 5675), there is a Part devoted to "The Problem". In this there is no mention of the Irish Republic. Relations with the State which shares the same island with Northern Ireland are, however, an important factor in Northern Ireland’s problem.

11. Northern Ireland and the Republic have never in the historical past been under one and the same effective government except under British rule. Under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, they were given separate governments, of which only that in Northern Ireland survived the next few years unchanged. A stabilisation of the situation was achieved after the establishment of the Irish Free State and the confirmation in 1925 of a tripartite agreement in which the Governments of the United Kingdom, of the Irish Free State and of Northern Ireland all participated. This agreement settled the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Free State. It recorded the resolve of the signatories "mutually to aid one another in the spirit of neighbourly comradeship" and provided a basis for meetings between the cabinets of the Belfast and Dublin governments. In effect the agreement provided for mutual recognition, mutual consultation and mutual co-operation.

A Regretted Change of Policy

12. Unhappily a subsequent Dublin government dishonoured these undertakings and, in a constitution adopted in 1937, laid claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland. Although no Dublin government has attempted to enforce this claim, a vigorous international propaganda campaign has been carried on by Dublin governments, seeking to give impetus to the claim, often by representing conditions in Northern Ireland as being other than they are.

13. Under the cover and pretext of this doctrine of nationalist irredentism on the side of the Republic, terrorist organisations have from time to time attacked Northern Ireland from the territory of the Republic and have been directed in their activities by headquarters in the Republic. It is this, and not any internal differences of religious denomination, that has been the main cause of violent disturbances in Northern Ireland. It has undoubtedly resulted in the Republic being regarded by a large section of the public in Northern Ireland as an enemy country.

14. These events have made concern for its national identity and for security against external attack or internal sedition a major factor in the political life of the Ulster community. This in turn sets important conditions as to what is acceptable in a future form of government. It rules out as widely unacceptable any scheme that involves the imposition of divided allegiance at the highest level of government.

Events before the Convention

15. Events leading up to the establishment of the Constitutional Convention require little further comment. A referendum showed that 98 per cent. of those voting desired Northern Ireland to remain in partnership with Britain within the United Kingdom. Two Westminster general elections and the Convention election showed that a majority rejected imposed power-sharing and divided allegiance at the top level of government, as provided in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, hereinafter referred to as the 1973 Constitution Act, and also rejected an institution relationship with the Irish Republic involving joint organs of administration.

 

THE COURSE OF THE CONVENTION

16. The Convention was elected under the Northern Ireland Act of July 1974. This Act was the legislative response to the situation created by the resignation of members of the Northern Ireland Executive following the Ulster Workers’ Council Constitutional Stoppage. The short term purpose of this Act was to provide an immediate basis for Government in Northern Ireland. Direct Rule was restored for an interim period of one year from July 1974, but the Secretary of State was given power, with the approval of Parliament, to extend it for up to one additional year, (i.e., to July 1976). This power was exercised.

17. The Act’s other purpose was to provide a forum for representatives of the people of Northern Ireland to discuss a future form of government for the province. There was no provision in the legislation requiring that a new system, should contain "power-sharing as of right" or "an Irish Dimension". The Acts provided for a Convention to be elected to consider what provision for government was likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the Northern Ireland community. In so legislating, the United Kingdom Parliament recognised the principle that Ulstermen should themselves frame proposals. for a new constitution. This decision was widely welcomed in Northern Ireland as right in itself and in accordance with sound democratic principles. The Convention was required to transmit a report on its conclusions to the Secretary of State, for laying before Parliament.

18. The Act provided that the Convention was to consist of a Chairman appointed by Her Majesty, and 78 elected Members. The Chairman would not be entitled to vote in the proceedings of the Convention or its committees. The Members were to be elected on the system used at a general election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. This system determined the constituency areas, the number of Members elected from each, and the use of the single transferable vote system.

19. Under the Act the Convention was to stand dissolved six months after its first meeting. However the Secretary of State was empowered to postpone dissolution for further periods of up to three months.

20. Within six months of dissolution taking place, the Secretary of State is empowered to reconvene the Convention. He may also hold polls for the purpose of obtaining the views of the people of Northern Ireland on any matter concerned with the future government of Northern Ireland. This power does not extend to the holding of a poll relating to the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

The Pre-Election Period

21. The Government decided to allow an interval before a Chairman was appointed and before elections to the Convention were held. The Government’s approach to the problems facing the Convention had been set out in its White Paper (Cmnd. 5675) of July 1974, paragraph 49 of which gives a brief summary of the Government’s view:

Local institutions in Northern Ireland cannot be established on a basis unacceptable to broad sections of opinion there; equally they cannot be established on a basis unacceptable to the United Kingdom as a whole or to Parliament as representing it. Any system which results in the permanent exclusion from any real and substantial influence in public affairs of a whole section of the community is inherently unstable and would be unacceptable to Her Majesty’s Government.

22. During the autumn and winter of 1974/75 the Government published three Discussion Papers. These were designed to provide a background for the Convention.

"Finance and the economy" described the basic economic features of Northern Ireland and the financial relationship between the Westminster Government and the Northern Ireland administration.

"Constitutional Convention: Procedure" outlined possible methods by which the Convention might proceed, and described the methods adopted by The Irish Convention of 1917/18, the Newfoundland Convention of 1946/47, and the current Australian Constitutional Convention.

"Government of Northern Ireland: A Society Divided" described the existing structure of Northern Ireland government and examined a number of procedures by which the participation of the whole Northern Ireland community might be secured.

23. The Secretary of State announced on 21 February 1975 that the Chairman of the Convention would be the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Lowry, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, and on 25 March that elections to the Convention would be held on 1 May 1975. Preparatory work by Mr. Ronald H. A. Blackburn, the Clerk to the Assembly, who was later appointed Clerk to the Convention, had been in progress for some time and in March Dr. John A. Oliver and Dr. Maurice N. Hayes were seconded from the Northern Ireland Civil Service to the Chairman’s Office.

The Work of the Convention

24. The parties campaigned vigorously. The result of the elections, in terms of party representation, was as follows:

    United Ulster Unionist Coalition (U.U.U.C.):  
          Ulster Unionist Party 19
          Vanguard Unionist Party 14
          Ulster Democratic Unionist Party 12
          Independent Unionist 1

      46

    Social Democratic and Labour Party (S.D.L.P.) 17
    Alliance Party 8
    Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (U.P.N.I) 5
    Northern Ireland Labour Party (N.I.L.P.) 1
    Independent Unionist 1

      78

The Manifestos of the parties are set out in Appendix 1.

The policy documents submitted by the U.U.U.C. and S.D.L.P. at the inter party talks are published in Appendix 2.

The parties’ proposals in principle for the Government of Northern Ireland tabled pursuant to the Resolution of the Convention of 17 September 1975 are set out in Appendix 3.

The Convention Members are listed according to party affiliations and the results of the elections are analysed in Appendix 4.

The Proceedings of the Convention are contained in Appendix 5.

A summary of the proposals in principle is given in Appendix 7.

References to the published Report of Debates of the Convention are given by Plenary Session and page numbers.

25. The Secretary of State directed that the first meeting of the Convention would be on 8 May 1975. The Convention met in the chamber at Stormont formerly used by the House of Commons of the Northern Ireland Parliament and by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The full range of Parliamentary services - albeit on a modest scale - was available to Members, and there was an active Press Gallery and Press Lobby. The services of the Parliamentary Library were extended to provide research facilities for Members. The Secretary of State authorized expenditure from public funds to pay for the services of expert advisers retained by parties.

26. The Convention’s first decision was to set up a Rules Committee. This consisted of 12 Members and represented all the main Party groups in proportion to their strength in the Convention. Its Report was presented to the Convention on 22 May 1975. After each draft rule had been debated the rules were adopted on 12 June and a Business Committee of the Convention was, appointed. The Business Committee which had a quorum of eight, was similarly composed and became responsible for arranging the business of the Convention and such other duties as the Chairman might determine. The Chairman presided over the Business Committee.

27. The Convention agreed that any paper, document or report presented to the Convention should, after being listed in the Proceedings and circulated to all Members, be referred to the Business Committee for consideration as to whether it should be printed and published. In fact the number of approaches to the Convention was small. Twenty five papers were received, some of them messages of exhortation and goodwill. In all, fifteen papers containing schemes and suggestions for the future government of Northern Ireland were listed and circulated to Members.

Two lengthy submissions from the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the Ulster Citizens’ Civil Liberties Advice Centre advocated a Bill of Rights. Other submissions urged severally a federal system, a Governor, a Queen in Council system and a voluntary coalition. The Business Committee did not consider it necessary to print and publish any of these papers.

28. The Convention then proceeded to debate in plenary sessions a series of motions in the names of all the parties. These provided an opportunity to explore the broad areas of agreement and disagreement among Members. No proposals were made for the appointment of committees, other than the Business Committee, to assist the Convention in the discharge of its functions.

After debates between 17 and 24 June the Convention in a Resolution agreed to commit itself to devising a system of government for Northern Ireland which would have the most widespread acceptance throughout the community; declared its abhorrence of violence from all sources and looked forward to open political negotiations within the Convention.

On 25 June the Convention approved a motion emphasizing that secret negotiations or agreements between H.M. Government and destructive elements in the community could only prejudice the work of elected representatives in the Convention. There was strong condemnation throughout the House of the "incident centres" set up by the Government in co-operation with the provisional Sinn Fein, the political wing of the provisional I.R.A., and of the finance, facilities and immunities apparently granted to terrorists.

29. These debates provided an opportunity to ventilate the problems faced by the Convention and showed much evidence of goodwill and magnanimity among Members. It was clear that all Members but one favoured the re-establishment of a devolved system of Northern Ireland government, in preference to "integration" with Great Britain, continued Direct Rule, or any other alternative, such as negotiated independence. There was common ground among Members, as elected representatives, in opposition to all types of private para-military groups. On the other hand it was obvious that there were fundamental differences, in particular between those who believed in majority cabinet government and those who believed in the representation of minorities as of right in cabinet.

30. Attendance of Members at the Convention on Sitting Days was high, averaging over ninety per cent; and the level of sustained attendance in the Chamber during even the lengthiest debates was remarkably high. Another feature was the frequency and willingness with which Members speaking would give way at the request of others so as to allow themselves to be questioned or their arguments to be probed on the spot.

A key-note which all Parties struck was a determination that business should be conducted to the greatest practicable extent in public rather than behind closed doors. In response the public galleries were much used and coverage by Press, Radio and Television was extensive. A Motion to permit direct sound broadcasting was debated and defeated only by a small majority in a Division which cut across Party lines, mainly on the issue of selective editing of a Convention discussion as distinct from Parliamentary debate and question time.

31. Before the summer recess, informal talks had begun between the U.U.U.C. and the S.D.L.P. It was agreed by all parties to use the recess to continue and develop talks. Therefore late July and early August were taken up by talks between all the main Party groups working through small teams of negotiators and involving the exchange of outline policy documents. When the Business Committee met on 14 August, there was unanimous agreement, after reviewing the progress to date of the inter-party talks, that this was then the most fruitful way of preparing for the forthcoming plenary sessions of the Convention. The Chairman therefore postponed the meeting of the Convention fixed for 19 August. The Chairman and his staff were not directly involved in the series of talks, but were kept aware of developments by the various negotiating teams The documents submitted by the U.U.U.C. and S.D.L.P. at these talks out lining their respective policy positions, are published separately in Appendix 2.

At the end of August, when negotiations between the U.U.U.C. and S.D.L.P. teams appeared to be breaking down, those teams jointly approached the Chairman and asked for his help. At this stage the Chairman became directly involved in consultation with the negotiations of these parties, separately and together.

Ultimately, however, the talks ended without any agreement being reported to the Convention.

Status of Members

32. Convention Members have found that although elected for the limited purpose of advising on constitutional arrangements they have become involve in practice in a great many local matters of concern to the people who elected them - social benefits, housing, water supply, transport, planning, agriculture and so on. As most had previously been Members of the Northern Ireland Parliament or of the Assembly, constituents were understandably inclined still to come to them seeking their help on practical matters of immediate concern. This is likely to continue until some permanent legislature comes into being. Members are agreed that it is in the interest of their constituents that they should be given facilities for approaching Ministers, leading deputations to Departments and so on. Moreover, in the disturbed state of the province anything that can be done to support and develop the political process, rather than violence, is in the public interest not only in relation to the province itself but in relation to the United Kingdom as a whole.

It is therefore with great regret that the Convention records the fact that Ministers set their faces against according the necessary facilities of access etc. to Convention Members and indeed that Ministers were more prepared to listen to non-elected persons, including members of para-military organisations, than they were to hear the views of elected representatives in the Convention.

Violence

33. Throughout the period of the Election Campaign and the work of the Convention violence continued unabated. Despite reports of a negotiated cease-fire by the provisional I.R.A., in February 1975, there was no basic improvement in the situation. The number of dead rose from 1,158 on 10 February 1975 to 1,341 by 20 October 1975; many more people were injured; much property was destroyed; and innumerable other explosions and shootings took place. There were many planned assassinations.

All these tragedies were deeply felt by Convention Members as well as by their constituents, not least when the victims were the soldiers and policemen who strive so valiantly to protect the whole community and enforce the rule of law.

Those episodes were fully reported locally, but less fully in the national Press, Radio and Television.

Underlying those episodes and largely unreported anywhere was a huge area of lawlessness. Intimidation was rampant; householders and shopkeepers were driven from their homes and businesses; many occupiers failed to pay their rent or rates; many failed to tax their motor-vehicles; summonses could often not be served; witnesses could not be persuaded to come forward and give evidence; large areas of the country were unsafe to travel across after dark; social activities dwindled; and political meetings were difficult to hold.

This is not the place to analyse the causes nor to apportion responsibility. It is, however, highly relevant to place on record the background against which convention Members were elected and against which they had to carry on their constitutional deliberations.

It was in this context that on 11 September 1975 the Convention resolved without dissent to deplore the fact that the failure of Her Majesty’s Government in dealing with the intolerable security situation had accentuated the unhappy divisions in the community and had thereby greatly impeded the work of the Convention.

 


 

PART II

PROPOSALS OF THE PARTIES AND RECOMMENDATIONS

CONSTITUTIONAL BASIS

34. Consistent with Section 2(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 the Convention worked for the provision of a government of Northern Ireland on the basis of the only constraint therein i.e., that likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland.

It was noted with approval that in the Northern Ireland Act 1974 the United Kingdom Parliament did not impose any constraints such as power-sharing in an executive or all Ireland institutions.

The Convention takes note that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland has repeatedly proved through the ballot box that it desires that the status of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom should not be altered. It is on this basis that this Convention makes its recommendations.

35. There was almost complete unanimity in the Convention in favour of some form of devolved administration and legislature within the United Kingdom; the single-Member Ulster Dominion Group, in advocating self-governing dominion status, alone favoured a different approach. This unanimity was based to some extent on criticism of the present system of Direct Rule but it arose principally from a strong feeling amongst Members that Northern Ireland’s problems could be best tackled by a regional government answerable to a local parliament or assembly.

36. Accordingly, this Convention concludes that Northern Ireland should be administered by an elected body and an executive empowered to legislate and govern and to be known as the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland.

Governor

37. Two groups, the U.U.U.C. and U.P.N.I., favoured the establishment of a non-political office the same as, or equivalent to, the former office of Governor of Northern Ireland. The U.U.U.C. considered that the person appointed to this post would perform the role of the Queen’s representative in Northern Ireland, carrying out such constitutional and ceremonial duties as Her Majesty was not able to perform in person. He would be supported by a full-time administrative secretary and a legal adviser. The U.P.N.I. saw the post as standing between the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Government. The Ulster Dominion Group Member advocated the appointment of a resident Governor General as an inherent part of his concept of dominion status within the Commonwealth. The Alliance Party had no objection to a re-establishment of the office of Governor and stated that it would give the idea active support if agreement was achieved on a constitution.

38. Accordingly, this Convention concludes that legislation affecting devolved matters should be enacted by the Queen in Parliament and Her Majesty should be represented in Northern Ireland by a Governor appointed by Her Majesty to exercise such constitutional functions and perform such ceremonial duties as She is not able to fulfil in person.

Privy Council

39. The U.U.U.C. argued for the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Privy Council and for membership to be offered to leading members of major opposition parties as at Westminster. It considered that such a body, operating above the level of party politics, would facilitate the exchange of information between government and members of opposition parties. The Alliance Party was prepared to give support to this concept as part of an agreed solution. The N.I.L.P. Member also advocated the establishment of a body which would operate outside politics, but saw it as a Council of State advising the Secretary of State and his Ministers.

40. Accordingly, this Convention concludes that there should be a Privy Council of Northern Ireland in which some places should be offered to leading members of major opposition parties.

Representation at Westminster

41. The U.U.U.C., U.P.N.I. and N.I.L.P. argued strongly for an increase in Northern Ireland’s representation at Westminster and the Alliance Party was also prepared to give active support to this if agreement was achieved on a constitution. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution (Cmnd. 5460) - hereinafter referred to as the Kilbrandon Report—also recommended an increase. The U.U.U.C. favours a number between 20 and 24 and advances the following arguments in support of greater representation:

(i) Northern Ireland, as an integral part of the United Kingdom, ought to be represented in the United Kingdom Parliament on a basis and scale similar to that used to determine the representation of corn parable parts of the Kingdom.

(ii) Northern Ireland is taxed on the same basis as the rest of the country and therefore the power of Parliament to tax must be balanced by the right to representation.

(iii) The allocation of United Kingdom funds, including those spent in Northern Ireland, is determined by the Parliament at Westminster.

(iv) Parliament legislates for Northern Ireland.

(v) Devolved government in other parts of the United Kingdom is held by Her Majesty’s Government to be fully consistent with parity of representation in the United Kingdom Parliament.

42. The U.U.U.C. suggested that the precise number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament and the Northern Ireland constituency boundaries should be determined by judicial commission. The U.P.N.I. also argued for equality of representation with other parts of the United Kingdom and suggested that at least one of the Northern Ireland Members should be included in the United Kingdom representation at the European Parliament. The N.I.L.P. Member put forward the figure of 20 as the appropriate level of representation and also suggested that Northern Ireland should be given adequate representation in the House of Lords.

43. Accordingly, this Convention concludes that the number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament at Westminster should be increased to between 20 and 24, the boundaries and exact number of the constituencies to be determined by judicial commission on a basis and scale similar to comparable parts of the United Kingdom.

Office of Secretary of State

44. Most groups in the Convention saw the office of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland continuing even after the establishment of a devolved government, but the U.U.U.C. considered that the post should be replaced by one or Secretary of State for all of the devolved regions of the United Kingdom. Once a transfer of functions to a Northern Ireland Government has been implemented, the powers of the Secretary of State should lapse. However, with the growing complexity and interventions of government and the need to co-ordinate regional planning within the framework of the E.E.C., it will be more necessary than ever to ensure that Northern Ireland’s interests are represented at Cabinet level.

45. The Ulster Dominion Group Member as part of his proposals advocated arrangements to enable the Northern Ireland government to liaise closely with the mainland government, or governments, until the stage was reached when a federation of the United Kingdom could be achieved.

46. Accordingly this Convention concludes that the office of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should lapse and those services not directly administered by the devolved administration should be the concern of a Secretary of State for the devolved regions or other senior Cabinet Minister.

 

FORM OF LEGISLATURE AND FRANCHISE

47. The U.U.U.C. group in the Convention recommended that any new Northern Ireland legislature should be unicameral with 78 - 100 members elected for a five year term on the same franchise as in the rest of the United Kingdom. They argued that the two-chamber system in the former Northern Ireland Parliament was extravagant in manpower and time and was not suited to the growing complexity and urgency of government. A membership of not less than 78 and not more than 100, including the Speaker, would not only facilitate proper personal representation of the interests of constituents and adequate manning of committees of the legislature, but would also permit the efficient and economic operation of the legislature within the existing Parliament Buildings at Stormont. Membership would be open to all British citizens in Northern Ireland who were qualified to sit at Westminster, except that there should be no barrier on grounds of ecclesiastical status or religious belief.

48. The U.U.U.C. argued that it is a fundamental principle that a Northern Ireland Parliament be given power to alter the qualification and registration of the electors, the law relating to elections, the constituencies and the distribution of the members among the constituencies, provided that in any new distribution, the number of members should not be altered, and due regard should be had for the population of the constituencies and for the giving of representation to significant but scattered minorities.

49. In Northern Ireland only British subjects and those persons who by virtue of Section 121 of the Electoral Law Act (N.I.) 1962 are already included in the register should continue to qualify for registration as Northern Ireland parliamentary and Local Government electors and to so qualify must have been resident in the constituency or elsewhere in Northern Ireland for the whole of the period of three months preceding the 15 September qualifying date (i.e., from 15 June to 15 September). Additionally, for the Northern Ireland franchise a person must, if he is not born in a place which is situated in Northern Ireland have resided continuously in the United Kingdom for at least the 7 year period preceding the qualifying date. The U.U.U.C. considers that the existing privilege conferred on citizens of the Republic of Ireland to vote at Westminster Parliamentary elections or a Local Government election in Great Britain should be abolished.

50. The U.U.U.C. would like a uniform franchise throughout the United Kingdom. However, it doubts the value of retaining the relative majority system (sometimes known as the first-past-the-post system) and favours either the present single transferable vote system or the adoption of a modified list system.

51. The modified list system is a method of seeking to ensure proportionality by filling a percentage of the seats by direct elections as in the United Kingdom with the balance of the seats being allocated in accordance with prescribed rules to the various parties in order to bring their representation more clearly into line proportionally to the number of votes cast. Electors thus record two votes - one for the candidate of their choice and another for the party they prefer. One third of the seats would thus be allocated on the party list system and two thirds to constituencies on the relative majority system.

The U.U.U.C. considers that this proposal merits further scrutiny because it would overcome one of the objections it has to the large PR constituencies which arise under the electoral machinery of the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973. In an area like South Antrim with 120,000 constituents, it is virtually impossible for members and constituents to know each other.

If there were to be a single-member constituency system, returning members for constituencies sub-divided within the United Kingdom Parliamentary boundaries resulting in a clear cut definition of the individual known to the constituents, scattered minorities would be able to receive representation from the list system at the same time.

52. The single transferable vote system is the one which has operated recently in Northern Ireland and should be used for the first election to a new Northern Ireland Parliament.

53. In discussing this particular system the Kilbrandon Report states at paragraph 784:

The principal advantages generally claimed for the single transferable vote are that the parties secure representation on the basis of their true strengths in the country, small parties are assured of a hearing, independent candidates have a chance of election and there are few "wasted votes" going to defeated candidates. The system gives the elector a greater variety of choice, including choice between members of the same party. The main disadvantage is that there is less likelihood than under the relative majority system of any one party securing an absolute majority of seats. Other disadvantages arise from having large multi-member constituencies. Inevitably there is less close contact between members and constituents; it costs more for the small party or independent candidate to fight an election; and the electoral process is more complex to operate and less easy for the voter to understand. There is a difficulty too with bye-elections since the system cannot then be applied; this can probably best be overcome by the use in such elections of the alternative vote system.

54. The S.D.L.P. did not advance any specific ideas as to its preferred form of legislature but, provided that agreement was obtained on an overall constitutional scheme, it was prepared to be open-minded as to the detailed arrangements.

55. The Alliance Party agreed with the U.U.U.C. that a unicameral legislature was to be preferred and also suggested a membership of 78, but it argued strongly that elections should be conducted on the Single Transferable Vote System. This electoral method would as far as possible provide a true reflection of electoral strengths in the country while maintaining the important geographical relationship between a member and his constituents.

56. The U.P.N.I. also favoured a lower chamber consisting of 78 members and it agreed with the Alliance Party that elections should be on a Proportional Representation basis. In addition it suggested that there should be a second chamber to which bodies such as District Councils, The Farmers’ Union, The Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The Confederation of British Industry and community and tenants’ associations would nominate members. This second chamber would comment on (but not be entitled to amend) all legislation emanating from the elected chamber; would be an official and public forum for important interests; and it would allow for the more leisurely discussion and examination of general issues of public importance not immediately involving legislation, finance or government administration. It was conceded that this forum would only be a sounding board.

57. Representation in a second chamber in the U.U.U.C. view would also prove difficult as small pressure groups could easily manipulate processes without necessarily giving proper representation to the membership of the bodies concerned.

58. The N.I.L.P. Member suggested a single chamber parliament of 100 members elected by the scheme of Proportional Representation known as the List System. This would involve treating the whole of Northern Ireland as one constituency and would facilitate minority groups, within and outside the traditional power blocks, in obtaining representation.

59. The Ulster Dominion Group Member advocated a bicameral legislature modelled as closely as possible on Westminster.

60. The U.U.U.C. was impressed by the argument that there should be a detailed study of the methods of election in view of the overriding requirement not only to provide stable government but to ensure the fair representation of significant but scattered minorities and felt that the matter should be examined more thoroughly.

61. Accordingly, this Convention concludes:

(i) That the Parliament of Northern Ireland should be unicameral and that a term should not exceed five years. The chamber should consist of not less than 78 and not more than 100 members who are British citizens.
(ii) That the Parliament of Northern Ireland should be able to legislate in matters affecting the franchise, elections and disqualifications for membership of that Parliament.

 

FUNCTIONS TO BE DEVOLVED

62. The U.U.U.C. believes that the powers formerly devolved to the Government of Northern Ireland were appropriate, and that their restoration is essential to secure stability and good government. The 1920 Government of Ireland Act distinguished between excepted powers (such as the Crown or the making of peace and war) reserved powers (such as external trade or the Northern Ireland Supreme Court) and those powers transferred to the Northern Ireland Parliament. The transferred powers came to include Agriculture, Education, Health and Social Services, Environment, Housing and Local Government, Trade, Industry and Employment, and Law and Order.

63. These powers provided a satisfactory basis for devolved government. At an administrative and executive level their exercise was widely praised. Indeed their scope was not seriously questioned until after the Kilbrandon Report took its Northern Ireland evidence in mid 1970. It is a fair inference from paragraph 1270 of its report that the Commission’s original intention had been to recommend no significant change in the functions devolved. Indeed the Kilbrandon proposals for Scotland, which the Government appears to have accepted, involve devolution to a Scottish Assembly of powers very similar to those enjoyed formerly by Northern Ireland, with the exception of social security, trade, industry and employment. The U.U.U.C. believes that the Government will propose a devolution of law and order powers to a Scottish Assembly. Credible government has to include such powers.

64. In spite of such considerations the United Kingdom Government introduced Direct Rule in 1972, and followed it by the 1973 Constitution Act. The U.U.U.C. believes that it is now widely recognised that Direct Rule was a mistake, and that it both encouraged Republican violence and generated loyalist counter-violence. It achieved no constructive purpose. The Constitution Act was equally misconceived. It provided for a Northern Ireland Assembly with limited powers. It reserved to Westminster powers over criminal law, prosecutions, treatment of offenders and the police, and it expanded excepted matters to embrace the franchise and the conduct of all Northern Ireland elections, all taxation powers and the appointment and removal of all levels of judges and magistrates.

65. These changes were fundamental. In a White Paper (Cmd. 568—Northern Ireland) issued on 24 March 1972 the Prime Minister and Government at Stormont had stated that to transfer all law and order responsibilities to Westminster would leave them bereft of any real influence and authority by removing the most fundamental power of any Government. The statement later prophetically asked - if Belfast is to bow to violence today - where will it be next year? Birmingham? London?

66. The Northern Ireland Executive had no formal function in relation to law and order, and yet this was the major concern of all Northern Ireland politicians. The purpose of the new arrangements was to guarantee the independence of law enforcement from allegedly partisan control and to retain the direct responsibility of the United Kingdom Parliament. The allegations of partisan bias continued from the same source and other voices were added while Republican violence increased. After the Executive collapsed the Government diminished effective authority by its contacts with the I.R.A. and loyalist para- militaries. There has not been a firm assertion of support for democratic authority in the province. In this regard the Republic of Ireland has taken a much more realistic and respectable position within its own territory.

67. It is very striking, from a U.U.U.C. perspective, that the party groups which participated in the Executive now all support a return of the police function to a Northern Ireland administration. The ordinary people throughout the Northern Ireland community suffer more than anyone else from both lawlessness on the ground and the irresponsibility of a remote government. The U.U.U.C. adds that the Parliamentary control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary should naturally carry with it control over prisons, training schools etc., and also over the criminal law, and the power of appointment of an Attorney-General and Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Report of the Committee on the Supreme Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland, 1970 (Cmnd. 4292) paragraph 49 (MacDermott Committee) recommended that the legislative powers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in relation to the Supreme Court should be redefined and in particular that the reserved matters be limited to the constitution of the Court, its rule-making authority, the costs of its proceedings, the appointment etc., of its judges and officers, and the preservation of certain remedies which protect fundamental rights. The U.U.U.C. agrees with these recommendations.

68. In the context of Northern Ireland’s problem of political violence, the U.U.U.C. believes that a Parliament must have the power to legislate for a period of public emergency, including a period when democratic institutions are threatened by subversion, and to call on the assistance of the Armed Forces in maintaining public order. The U.U.U.C. is ready to propose specific arrangements. The U.U.U.C. also believes that the responsibility for the franchise and the conduct of elections is necessary for genuinely devolved government and should be restored.

69. The U.U.U.C. believes that events since 1972 have shown that its interpretation of the Northern Ireland security situation was accurate. It fully accepts that a future Northern Ireland Constitution must have greater provision than in the past for minorities to participate in the parliamentary processes of government, and its proposals for parliamentary committees are designed to secure this on a generous basis. But it believes it is essential that law and order functions should be exercised by those who are totally committed to success. It rejects para-military violence, whether it is inspired by "Republican" or "Loyalist" groups, and it believes that maximum credibility should be given to local elected representatives.

The U.U.U.C. is convinced that what has given most strength to violent elements in Northern Ireland has been the willingness of governments to conciliate those who are not open to peaceful persuasion and with whom, in view of their declared objectives, it is unthinkable to reach a political understanding. If the United Kingdom Government is not prepared to face the burden involved, because of political implications elsewhere, it should transfer the necessary powers to a Northern Ireland administration.

70. The S.D.L.P. proposed that devolved powers should be as extensive as the powers of the Assembly under the 1973 Constitution Act and should include the additional powers of control of the police. However, franchise and elections, the courts, prisons and related services would remain reserved. There should be power to extend these powers by Order in Council, provided a "very substantial majority" in the Northern Ireland Assembly requested it.

71. The Alliance Party proposed that the Northern Ireland Parliament should have legislative competence in all internal social and economic matters, in internal policing, in criminal legislation, prisons and the lower courts, but in nothing else including defence of the realm, franchise and elections.

72. The U.P.N.I. proposed the same functions as those devolved under the 1920 Act and N.I.L.P. proposed powers "broadly similar" to those of the former Northern Ireland Parliament, including powers of internal policing.

73. Accordingly, this Convention concludes that the devolved government for Northern Ireland should have powers broadly similar to those conferred by the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

 

FORMATION OF NORTHERN IRELAND GOVERNMENT

74. The manner in which the executive would be formed and would operate was generally recognised as a key matter and was one on which a wide range of opinion was expressed. Many suggestions were put forward and many schemes of different kinds were aired: but it is felt that a particular point should be borne in mind when considering them. The Convention is to consider only the basic constitutional structures that should exist. This is a wider matter than the issue of who should be in the next government. The structures should be such as will endure during the formation and dissolution of a series of governments. Frequently the issue of the next government overlapped and intruded upon the issue of what the basic structure should be, but it is felt that an attempt should be made to keep the two separate.

75. Two points stand out when considering the general guidelines that should apply: to these basic structures. They must be practical and they must be clearly fair and democratic.

76. In the proposals put forward by the various parties and groups there was at times some uncertainty in detail, so that it is difficult to understand how some of the proposals would work. For example in the N.I.L.P. proposals it is stated, "we recognise that some form of coalition government between sectarian groupings will be required… ." (No. 22, page 604). That implies a form of compulsory coalition. Yet on page 606 is the remark "The Chairman of the various Departmental Committees would collectively constitute the Executive" Nothing is said as to their election, though the committees would be proportional to party strengths so that a majority in the House would be reflected in the committees and in a position to ensure that all Chairmen are from that majority, and this view of the executive is reinforced by a further quotation from page 606, "Some parties and politicians might wish to exclude themselves from power and responsibility sharing at Cabinet level". This apparent conflict was pointed out in debate (No. 24, page 715) when the N.I.L.P. spokesman replied,

"There was another theme which ran through all the comments and that was on the question of whether or not it must be possible for the spirit of community government to be set aside under the system which we have suggested in our document. I think it was Mr. Dunlop and Mr. Canavan who brought up this question. No, this could not happen. We provide for the prevention of a monopoly from the one party in the clause where we say:

"A stable democratic constitution for the Province must reflect the determination of the majority to remain within the United Kingdom and must, at the same time, enable all sections of the people of the Province to play a full and meaningful role in the direction of public affairs and to share fully in the responsibility for the security and government of the Province".

This is the key phrase and everything falls underneath that. That is the litmus test as it were, and if that test is not met then any arrangement automatically falls by the board".

The reply implies the existence of a constitutional guarantee, yet nowhere, in the policy statement or in speeches, is there any indication of the nature of that guarantee, its terms, who would operate it, or how it might work.

77. Some parties suggested that there should be some form of temporary arrangement. However, it was felt that this should be avoided because the Convention was asked to report upon a long term solution, not a temporary expedient. Furthermore, a temporary arrangement would prolong the corrosive uncertainty with regard to the constitution and aggravate the instability that the Convention ought to eliminate.

78. The major difference of opinion in the Convention was between the U.U.U.C. and the S.D.L.P. The latter took the view that it should be represented in the Government. It believes that the task of modern Northern Ireland politicians is to lead the people towards a new politics of consensus and cooperation. The S.D.L.P. believes that the traditional Westminster model tended to institutionalise the traditional divisions in Northern Ireland’s society. In Northern Ireland there were neither swings of the political pendulum nor a tradition of political empiricism. The S.D.L.P. believes that the present necessity is to bridge the traditional political divide in Northern Ireland, and thus sees power-sharing in government as essential.

79. It is not clear whether the S.D.L.P. regards such representation as temporary or as a matter of right. Its policy statement reiterated the phrase "power sharing in government" (No. 22, page 592) which could be regarded in either light. Its presentation, (No. 23), did not entirely clarify the matter. But in the S.D.L.P. paper of 27 August (No. 22, page 598 - Appendix 3) it is said,

"The principle of power sharing ... requires that all parties with significant representation in the Northern Ireland Parliament will share in government".

The words in bold type clearly imply that such sharing would be as of right. This view is reinforced by a reply to an intervention:

"... what on earth is the point at this stage in departing from the one thing we already have in form of detail, that is, the 1973 Constitution Act?" (No. 23, page 629).

80. So, no one could then take the S.D.L.P. position to be that there must be some form of guarantee that for the foreseeable future all major parties will be in government. However, it recognises through its Deputy Leader that power sharing is an unnatural system of government and has always said so. (No. 23, page 660).

81. The U.U.U.C. reject such a position. Its view is that the formation of the executive and the instruments of cabinet government should be based on the practices and precedents of the Westminster Parliament and that any system of executive government which was in essence an imposed or compulsory coalition of political parties or elected representatives, irrespective of how such imposed coalition was reached, must be rejected.

82. The U.U.U.C. takes the view that if there were such a constitutional guarantee then:—

(i) There could be no collective responsibility as between the members of the government, since the members of the government would not owe their position to an electoral mandate or to the choice of the Prime Minister, but to a constitutional guarantee quite distinct from the will of the electorate.

(ii) The government would not be responsible to Parliament or to the people. if there were a constitutional guarantee that group A would always be in government, it would not be possible for the people to change such a government. Neither they nor the Parliament would ever be able to vote group A out of office. Stated starkly, it means that democratic government would cease to exist.

(iii) Under such an arrangement every group in government would have an effective veto on every government decision. It is fallacious to suggest that in such a situation people would work together in order to govern Successfully. One has only to look at Cyprus, whose constitution is replete with such guarantees, to see that in 1963, within 4 years of the Zurich Agreements, deadlock occurred, and, strictly speaking, Cyprus has been without constitutional government ever since.

(iv) Such a constitution would fail if at a future election a majority of the new Parliament refused to operate the guarantees. This would be a very real prospect as there is a clear majority in the Convention opposed to such guarantees. No constitutional device can overcome a resolute refusal by a majority of the people to overcome it, outside a totalitarian framework.

(v) Such a constitution would provide no impetus or incentive for change with regard to political allegiances. It could freeze and fossilize the existing party structures and, in a phrase, institutionalise sectarianism in government.

83. There is a further point, namely the form of the guarantee. No one in the Convention was prepared to specify the details of such a guarantee and there was a belief that any explicit guarantee would be undesirable or impracticable. There is the possibility of using the formula of the 1973 Constitution Act.

This contained no explicit guarantee. The Secretary of State was empowered to appoint the Executive and he used this power to ensure that certain groups would be represented. So that it would seem that for the kind of constitutional guarantee, discussed above, to be practicable then there must be some person or body external to Northern Ireland which would require people to combine in this way.

84. This would be undesirable for it would mean that the Westminster Government would have to be actively involved and interested in day-to-day political affairs in Northern Ireland. Such involvement would be, to a considerable extent, repugnant to the existence of a devolved Parliament and government and might, furthermore, be unwelcome to the Westminster Parliament and government. Then, while it might be possible for some external body, by dint of persuasion backed up by statutory powers, to construct such a power sharing executive, if the latter did not evolve naturally from within Northern Ireland society it would run serious risks. It can be argued that the previous Executive was formed by pressures which distorted and obscured features of Northern Ireland society and that it fell when the latter reasserted themselves. Until such reassertion it might have been possible to believe that the pressures were effecting a change in society, but, in the light of it, it can no longer be possible to sustain such a belief.

85. Since the device of the 1973 Constitution Act is regarded as impracticable then it is appropriate to consider the other devices that have been suggested. The Alliance party proposal was that, for a period of time to be determined by Westminster and dependent upon the breakdown of community division and mistrust in the Province, the system of local administration should be based on departmental committees of the Parliament. The chairmen of committees should be determined by a proportional system which would reflect different party strengths. The committee membership should then be elected by the same method. The chairman of each committee, subject to the assistance and advice of his committee, would discharge the administrative responsibilities of his particular department and introduce legislation on the advice of his committee. Each chairman would be answerable to parliament and would not be subject to collective responsibility. A General Purposes Committee consisting of all departmental chairmen would be set up to recommend to the parliament the allocation of resources.

This is essentially a variant of the 1973 Constitution Act in that it proposes a cabinet formed by proportional representation. The objections stated above would apply to it. There would be no collective responsibility and disputes within the government could only be resolved on the floor of the House. Such a cumbersome system could work only if there already existed a broad consensus between all the parties on matters of policy. In any event not every issue that might cause a dispute could come to the floor of the House to be resolved there. Such resolution is in fact impossible, for, if a Minister flouts the will of the House, he cannot be removed. The sanctions against him are that he would be unable to obtain new legislation or that his Department would be deprived of funds. Such a system could do untold damage to the fabric of government.

86. Then there are the N.I.L.P. proposals. As mentioned in paragraph 76, it is not clear if the coalition it envisages is compulsory or voluntary. If it is compulsory then the comments on the Alliance and S.D.L.P. proposals apply to it. If it is voluntary then its position is referred to below.

87. Finally there are the proposals from U.P.N.I. In paragraph 1 of its proposals there is a reference to the "principle of agreed coalition truly representative of the whole Ulster community" and in paragraph 3 it is stated, "The Chief Minister should be whoever has the confidence of a majority in the chamber". Yet the paragraph proceeds, "Departmental heads should be selected by him under a procedure to uphold the principle in paragraph 1". (No. 22, Page 602). Because of the references to agreed coalition and to the Chief Minister’s power of selection, this can be taken to mean, not that there should be a constitutional requirement that all shades of opinion be in government, but that it is U.P.N.I’s own position that the Chief Minister should try, within the limit of acceptance of Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, to get as broadly based a cabinet as possible.

88. If U.P.N.I. accepts that there is to be no Constitutional requirement of power sharing in Government then it becomes impossible for it to justify a refusal to accept the basic U.U.U.C. structures. The U.P.N.I. approach is an indication of the possibly different way in which it would, if it had the opportunity, operate those structures.

89. The U.U.U.C. bases its position on Westminster practice. It considers that it is fundamental to a democratic government that,

(i) it is elected to carry out policies submitted to the electorate and to fulfil commitments of an ideological nature and of general political intent;

(ii) the electorate would always be in a position to endorse or reject such a government;

(iii) the executive would always be united on policy and be collectively responsible for all decisions;

(iv) the Prime Minister would always be in a position to appoint or dismiss members of the government, subject to his ability to maintain a majority in Parliament;

(v) such a government should be ultimately answerable to the people but in its legislative proposals and day-to-day administration it is vital that the government be effectively answerable to Parliament.

The U.U.U.C. believes that for a democratic government, it is desirable that

(i) opposition be effective; otherwise there would be no accountability in any meaningful sense;

(ii) all sections of the people identify with the institutions of the State but not at the price of giving any section of the people a guaranteed position in government;

(iii) the parliamentary system should seek in every practical way to safeguard minority interests and that such interests should be meaningfully represented and be capable of calling to account any action that might be deemed unfair or unjust to them.

The U.U.U.C. believes that such a system avoids constitutional rigidity and is sufficiently flexible to meet changing circumstances but no country ought to be forced to have in its cabinet any person whose political philosophy and attitudes have revealed his opposition to the very existence of that State.

90. However it is objected that, while this system is theoretically fair, the practical effect would be otherwise (because there is a majority in the country - U.U.U.C. commands that majority and U.U.U.C. refuses to contemplate S.D.L.P. involvement). This argument is facile and false. It is based on the assumption that Roman Catholics vote S.D.L.P., and Protestants U.U.U.C.; and as there are more Protestants than Roman Catholics, hence the S.D.L.P. will always be in opposition. A cursory examination of the Convention results would reveal that not all Roman Catholics vote S.D.L.P. and not all Protestants vote U.U.U.C. A significant number of Roman Catholics and Protestants vote Alliance, N.I.L.P. and U.P.N.I.

Successive elections have shown that there has been some movement away from religious polarization. As the S.D.L.P. admitted in one of its debates, the only sectarian contest in the Convention election occurred in West Belfast where the S.D.L.P. had to face a determined challenge from a candidate standing blatantly on a Roman Catholic ticket. Furthermore, not only does the S.D.L.P. have some Protestant representatives and the Alliance some Roman Catholic representatives but obviously voting patterns reveal cross-voting over the whole political spectrum.

The S.D.L.P. contention that the Westminster model "tended to institutionalise the traditional divisions of Northern Ireland’s society" is only right in so far as a section of the community in the early years of the State’s existence adopted a policy of abstention. Happily that is not so to the same extent today.

The U.U.U.C. has declared that it is unwilling to join with the S.D.L.P. in Cabinet Government. This is surely a British tradition as was evidenced by the Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson’s attitude in the last Westminster elections. That did not say that the United Kingdom electorate must vote Labour any more than the Northern ireland electorate must vote U.U.U.C. The U.U.U.C. proposals allow ample scope for the electorate to return, if it so desires, a coalition, for example, of S.D.L.P., Alliance and U.P.N.I.

91. It is open to S.D.L.P. and others to enter into an electoral pact and seek a popular mandate and such a coalition could have a genuine prospect of success. Over the period February 1974 to May 1975 U.U.U.C. support varied from 51.1 to 58.1 per cent. So that to argue that there must always be a majority opposed to S.D.L.P. participation is wrong.

92. However, it is true that, while Alliance and U.P.N.I. favour S.D.L.P. participation, they do not favour S.D.L.P.’s aspiration towards an all Ireland Republic. It is only with regard to this that the S.D.L.P. is in a permanent minority. The S.D.L.P. would only be a permanent minority so long as it retains a republican aspiration. If it dispenses therewith, then immediately would-be allies such as Alliance and U.P.N.I. spring to hand, and, while a minority at the moment, it could not then be described as a permanent minority. It is the belief of the U.U.U.C. that the S.D.L.P. position is fundamentally ambiguous. Although there is a formal disclaimer of republican stances - the language and attitude of republicanism still linger and it fails to follow the formal disclaimer through to its logical conclusion (to supporting police, forming pacts with Alliance/U.P.N.I. and seeking even wider support).

The U.U.U.C. sees the basic thrust of that party not in the realm of Social Democratic and Labour philosophy but in a desire to take Northern Ireland outside the Union. The U.U.U.C. believes that since the Dublin Government is committed to a United Ireland and Westminster has apparently adopted a position of neutrality on the Union, the Northern Ireland Government should be involved in maintaining the Union as the electorate has desired.

93. It is true that the U.U.U.C., while conceding that under Westminster practice voluntary coalitions are possible, has, nonetheless, after considering such a coalition with S.D.L.P., rejected it.

But the attitude of the U.U.U.C. to such a coalition, has been, as it ought to be, based upon policies and personalities (the two being inevitably inter-related). The recent past is too vivid with memories of members who are now in the leadership of S.D.L.P. working to destroy the former Government of Northern Ireland to allow any real confidence in sharing with them at this level.

The incident of one member of the Executive of the previous Assembly prepared to resign and thus destroy the Executive is a reminder of the tenuous foundation of a coalition as of right. But especially the U.U.U.C. objects to an obvious subversive pattern displayed.

94. On the fundamental policy issue there is the ambiguity referred to above which many, not unreasonably, consider against the background of the earlier stances of that party and its leading figures. The S.D.L.P., even when in the Executive, consistently refused to support the law enforcement body in the community. The U.U.U.C. does not object to indicating specific instances where it is believed that things are wrong but the constant refusal to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary has left the U.U.U.C. in a position where it cannot share with the S.D.L.P. in Government. Differences exist on other political issues.

95. There is further advantage to the U.U.U.C. proposals. Adopting a constitution including a guarantee for the S.D.L.P. would enable that Party to retain its current ambiguity. While the Westminster model faces the S.D.L.P. with a choice of

(a) clinging to republicanism and remaining a permanent minority, or

(b) modifying republicanism in such a way as to be able to coalesce with other groups and have a real prospect of participating in government.

96. Accordingly this Convention concludes:

(i) That the formation and operation of the executive should conform to the practices and precedents of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

(ii) That the Queen’s Representative should invite the leader of the largest Parliamentary party or group to form a government.

(iii) That the selection and dismissal of Ministers should be at the discretion of the Prime Minister who should not be compelled to include members of any particular party or group.

(iv) That no country ought to be forced to have in its Cabinet any person whose political philosophy and attitudes have revealed his opposition to the very existence of that State.

(v) That the government should be responsible to Parliament, and the Cabinet should be collectively responsible for its decisions.

(vi) That the Prime Minister should be entitled to remain in office until he has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Parliament.

(vii) That the number of Cabinet Ministers should not exceed eight.

 

COMMITTEES

97. Within the context of a Westminster-style Parliament and a Cabinet Government the U.U.U.C. proposes a committee system covering each department of government. It does this to strengthen Parliament vis-à-vis the executive and to make opposition more effective. This is in keeping with the highest traditions of British Parliamentary democracy which in the beginning acted basically as a curb upon Monarch and Nobles. It is also a development of the committee system which has existed.

98. The S.D.L.P. made no proposals as to committees but welcomed the U.U.U.C. suggestions as far as they go. It regarded them as a means of making parliamentary control of the administration more effective and as something it would welcome in any future administration but as not fulfilling its terms as included in its five principles on power sharing.

99. The Alliance Party appeared to make recommendations for an interim period until majority government would achieve general support. It proposed a system of local administration based on departmental committees whose chairmen would proportionally reflect party strengths and whose membership would be selected on a similar pattern. The committees might be consultative committees to assist and advise the chairmen although they might have a more positive role to play. Clearly there would be no collective responsibility for chairmen and therefore no strong government even though all groups participated in Parliament.

100. The Alliance Party regarded the U.U.U.C. proposals as palliatives which would in no way affect the root cause of the failure of the 1920 system. It considered that the problem was not one of power for the opposition but of responsibility and methods of breaking down the frustrations caused by perpetual minority status. The Alliance Party went further and pointed out the dangers which it thinks are in this system, the dangers of delay and frustration which flow from the division of responsibility.

The U.U.U.C. considers that this is the real weakness in the Alliance case. The 1920 system did not fail. The "minority" failed to act responsibly and so share in the democratic system, thereby developing a party which could command wider support in the community. Clearly responsibility would be even more diverse under the Alliance committee system.

101. If the committee had a larger role than mere consultation then its role would approach the N.I.L.P. proposal in which committees would be largely responsible for supervising and controlling the work of the various ministries. Although these committees would reflect the party strengths and have a voluntary nature with participants of necessity prepared to give their loyalty to the institutions and State of Northern Ireland, the U.U.U.C. rejects the proposal. It is undesirable that executive control should be devolved to a committee and not to a Minister. It is doubtful if local authority management methods can be automatically translated into government.

102. The U.P.N.I. considered that committees should consist of elected representatives in proportion to party strengths in the chamber. They should scrutinise all legislation, and have the power to sponsor legislation but all legislation would have to be approved by the chamber.

This bears some resemblance to the U.U.U.C. proposals.

103. The U.U.U.C. committees are neither executive nor merely consultative. They should have parliamentary powers to send for persons and papers but no executive powers relating to government. Consultative committees, as existed in the 1973 Constitution Act, may appear attractive but they have no real significance. They are biased from the outset in the Ministers’ direction not only because they would be in the chair but because the committees would be serviced by the Ministers’ Departments. This would tend to emasculate participation or opposition rather than improving either.

104. The U.U.U.C. proposal is derived to some extent from the specialist select committees introduced in Westminster as a result of the so-called Crossman reforms and the suggestions in the Northern Ireland’s Government Green Paper of October 1971 (The Future Development of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland - Cmd. 560). It also owes some inspiration to the committees which exist in the United States Congress.

105. The committees would consist of 8 or 10 members, drawn equally from government and opposition supporters, with the normal parliamentary committee voting rights. This would not distort the balance in the House and give a Weighted majority quite out of keeping with the wish of the electorate. To be effective and economic in use of manpower the services of government might be grouped into six departmental committees. The chairmen should be appointed by the usual channels with at least half of the posts being held by the opposition. They should be provided with an office and suitable staff. Chairmen and deputy chairmen should receive appropriate remuneration and the other committee members should receive attendance fees.

106. The powers of the committee would fall into two main areas: the scrutiny of government action and involvement in legislative business. Each committee would undertake for its department the work normally done by the Public Accounts, Consolidated Bills and Subordinate Legislation Committees. In addition the committees would be empowered to scrutinise all the activities of their departments. In order to undertake this task they would be able, subject to suitable safeguards, to send for persons (including Ministers) and papers, conduct hearings and adjourn from place to place. These safeguards would be set forth in Standing Orders and would cover such contingencies as balancing the need to ensure that undue demands are not made upon a Minister’s or Civil Servant’s time against the need to ensure that such protective devices are not used to cover an unwillingness to appear; the restriction upon the right to require the production of Cabinet papers; the protection of national security and the safeguarding of certain confidential matters of Companies in negotiation with the government. The agenda of the committee would be settled by the chairman and deputy chairman.

107. In the legislative process the committee has a twofold role: one involving government legislation and the other which it might derive from its own field of study. After a formal First Reading, and before the Second Reading of a Bill government legislation should be sent to the appropriate committee. The committee might conduct public hearings on the Bill and challenge its principles and then send the Bill, together with a report on it, to the House for the Second Reading.

If the Bill obtained a Second Reading it would be referred back to the relevant committee for a committee stage. This may seem a little cumbersome, but in the absence of a Second Chamber with an opportunity for revision it is necessary to have a second chance to look at a Bill.

On returning to the Chamber a Bill would not pass through a normal Report Stage but rather come back to the floor so that any Member of the House could propose amendments. This preserves the rights of every other Member of the House.

108. Any Member could sponsor a Private Member’s Bill. However, a specialist committee might in studying a particular area evolve some legislative proposals. This could be presented by way of a White Paper or have further access to parliamentary time.

109. In addition to the Departmental and ad hoc committees there should be a Rules Committee. This committee would combine the function of a Privileges Committee and a House Services Committee. In addition, it would be obliged to set a timetable within reasonable minima and maxima for the legislative business of committees. This timetabling should be reasonably flexible and apply primarily to legislation to be brought before or processed for the House. Some procedure would be necessary to enable legislation to be passed quickly in an emergency. In the case of an urgent dissolution of the House a new parliament might, by resolution, take up at the same stage any legislation which had obtained a First Reading in the old Parliament.

This Rules Committee would not be a Back Bench Committee and should be proportionate to the size of the parties.

110. The staff and resources of the Parliamentary Library should be expanded to create a research division, ultimately under the control of the Speaker, to handle the research needs of the committees, as well as the inquiries of Members of the House.

111. Accordingly this Convention concludes:

(i) That a Committee system should be devised to give real and substantial influence to an opposition and to make Parliament more effective.

(ii) That covering each Department of Government there should be a Departmental Committee of 8 or 10 backbenchers drawn equally from Government and opposition supporters with normal parliamentary voting rights.

(iii) That each Committee would be involved in the legislative process and scrutiny of Government action relating to Its Department.

(iv) That there should be a Rules Committee drawn from the whole House.

 

UNITED KINGDOM-NORTHERN IRELAND FINANCIAL RELATIONSHIPS:
NORTHERN IRELAND SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC PRIORITIES

112. The system of financial relationships between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments which developed during the period before 1972 was complex in detail. But its general effect was relatively simple. Cash social security benefits, and many other types of public expenditure were maintained at virtually identical levels in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. During the post war period Northern Ireland Government was enabled to narrow the gap in standards between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in the range of the social services, and other public sector services, both of which involved capital expenditure. It was also enabled to take special measures to deal with the economic problems of the province. These included special aid to reduce unemployment and provide industrial training. The basic criterion was that the achievement of parity between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in public services and employment was sufficient justification for Northern Ireland to be provided with funds to permit a comparable level of public expenditure. In retrospect it is clear that the Northern Ireland administration often simply followed the developments in Westminster policy. The technical basis of the 1920 financial arrangements presumed a degree of autonomous local decision making but it was not used. Instead a policy developed which compared public sector spending programmes in Northern Ireland with those in Great Britain to give a basis for the financial relationships.

113. The level of public expenditure per head for each country in the United Kingdom has been set out in the Northern Ireland Office Discussion paper on Finance and the Economy of September 1974.

PUBLIC EXPENDITURE PER HEAD EXPRESSED AS A
PERCENTAGE OF EXPENDITURE IN ENGLAND

 

1966/67

1967/68

1968/69

1969/70

1970/71

1971/72

1972/73

England

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

Wales

111

109

115

111

105

109

106

Scotland

110

119

125

126

119

120

118

Northern Ireland

105

107

109

114

113

118

125

This table shows that although expenditure was broadly based on the principle of parity of services, the level of per capita public expenditure was lower in Northern Ireland than in either Scotland or Wales until the crisis of the last few years. All three countries, however, were above the level of England. In 1972/73 the level of per capita public expenditure in Northern Ireland for the first time exceeded the equivalent level in Scotland. This is largely attributable to security problems. It is necessary, for the foreseeable future, to expect that these problems will persist and that any future regional administration in Northern Ireland will require substantial support from the national Exchequer.

The U.U.U.C. believes that normal expenditure should continue to be settled within the general criteria that apply to United Kingdom public expenditure, particularly to the policies applying to expenditure levels in Scotland and Wales. Security expenditure will however require special consideration.

114. The U.U.U.C. believes that the economic objective of a devolved Northern Ireland Government should be the promotion of economic growth and the promotion of a long term high level of employment. A Northern Ireland Government should have the power to initiate a wide range of policies to this end.

115. The U.U.U.C. believes that a new start should be made in the system of United Kingdom - Northern Ireland financial relationships. The general principle should be that Northern Ireland is attributed its share of national taxation; that its administration should be empowered to vary taxation in certain areas; and that, in addition, there should be a supplementary grant-in-aid based on the economic and social needs of the area. Price and estimating adjustments should be made at appropriate intervals. There should be an annual negotiation between the Treasury and the Northern Ireland Government at which the five year public sector programme would be reviewed and the priorities of the Northern Ireland Government discussed in the light of the requirement of overall United Kingdom public expenditure policy. There should be an under standing that the Northern Ireland administration is free to vary its priorities and standards of service within its financial allocation. This would be beneficial to the quality of Northern Ireland administration and consistent with the conclusions of the September 1974 White Paper (Cmnd. 5732), "Democracy and Devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales". Parity of individual programmes would not be the basic criterion. Preferably, a formula should be negotiated for the supplementary grant, based perhaps on the difference between average per capita public sector expenditure in the United Kingdom less average per capita public sector revenue raised in Northern Ireland, with an adjustment for any differences in taxation and for the difference between average living standards in the rest of the United Kingdom and those in Northern Ireland, or some other indication of the need of the region could be used to stimulate its economic and social development and narrow any divergences from national standards of living.

116. The U.U.U.C. is determined that as in the past the highest standards of public accountability will be maintained and for that purpose the office of Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland will be confirmed. It will be the duty of that officer not only to audit all Departmental Accounts but to advise the legislature on them and, in particular, to work closely with each of the proposed new Parliamentary Committees and thus assist them actively with their functions of scrutinising Departmental work. This in itself will be powerful re-inforcement of the Committees in the sense of their being able to conduct investigations based on detailed and authentic facts and figures for which the Departments will be answerable.

117. The Convention is not a forum for setting out social and economic policies for the future, but it is essential to refer briefly to the range of economic and social problems that now affect Northern Ireland and to ensure that the proposed structure of the Northern Ireland Government will permit these to be tackled. These will persist for many years, even on hopeful assumptions. The U.U.U.C. does not wish a future Northern Ireland administration to be bound to follow the developments of policy at Westminster, since resources will be scarce and Northern Ireland’s priorities will, in many instances, diverge from those of the rest of the United Kingdom. But it does accept that the expectations of the people of Northern Ireland that certain minimum standards should prevail throughout the United Kingdom, will curtail the scope for departures from social policies adopted by the United Kingdom Parliament.

In this context the U.U.U.C. wishes to express its agreement with the terms of the March 1973 White Paper on Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals (Cmnd. 5259) in relation to the criteria which should govern Northern Ireland public finance (though not its silence on local variations in some aspects of taxation).

The relevant paragraphs are as follows:

    85. The financial relationships between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of Northern Ireland have hitherto been regulated not only by statute but by a whole pattern of agreements, arrangements and understandings. Apart from the broad constitutional provision which must be made, the two significant questions to be answered are:

    (a) if Northern Ireland’s attributed revenue is to be supplemented out of voted moneys, how is the need to be measured?

    (b) what scope is there, in the context of such financial arrangements, for the development in the Northern Ireland Assembly of the politics of choices and priorities?

    86. The Government believes it to be right that the broad objectives by which the financial requirements of Northern Ireland will be judged should be clearly stated. These are:

    (a) to accomplish as rapidly as possible, once violence has ended, the task of physical reconstruction and rehabilitation created by the disorders of recent years;

    (b) to create a sound base for the economy and to encourage external industrial investment;

    (c) to work progressively towards the achievement in Northern Ireland of those standards of living, employment and social conditions which prevail in Great Britain.

118. The U.U.U.C. believes that the role of the Northern Ireland Government in dealing with public sector spending and taxation should be determined in the light of these objectives and could be compatible with United Kingdom Government policy for the management of the whole United Kingdom economy. The total for Northern Ireland, which will have to be acceptable to the Government at Westminster, will be a matter for negotiation between the United Kingdom Government and the new Government at Stormont. Within this total, however, Northern Ireland should enjoy a large measure of freedom of decision as regards its choice of priorities and policies in advancing towards the objectives stated above.

119. The position of the S.D.L.P. was stated during the Convention debate (No. 23) of 1 October. It broadly supports for Northern Ireland the type of financial arrangement envisaged in the 1974 proposals for Scotland and Wales. This entails a grant, calculated in relation to expenditure which would be roughly sufficient to provide common United Kingdom standards of service. The Scottish and Welsh proposals did not attempt to relate the block grant to taxable capacity, and the S.D.L.P., like the U.U.U.C., sees that independent action may be endangered if a devolved Northern Ireland administration does not have some power to vary taxation. On the whole, however, it favours a supplementary grant, calculated on an expenditure basis.

120. The position of the Alliance Party is slightly different. The party favours a block grant, distinguishing it however from an allocation for Northern Ireland services which would be financed on the present parity principle. This appears to relate primarily to the cash social services and agricultural subsidies. The Alliance Party, like the S.D.L.P. and the U.U.U.C., agrees that a devolved system of government should have powers to vary taxation.

121. The U.P.N.I. proposes a return to the system that prevailed before 1972. The normal criterion to justify Northern Ireland public expenditure would be parity with services in Great Britain, but special considerations would apply to measures taken against unemployment. The U.U.U.C. believes that this would curtail opportunities to develop economic policies related to the special problems of Northern Ireland and would create a lethargic approach to social and economic issues as existed from time to time in the former Northern Ireland Parliament.

122. The differences between the parties are thus relatively slight. The U.U.U.C. believes that the views put forward by themselves and the S.D.L.P. are very close in practice. The U.U.U.C. remains convinced that a system wholly related to expenditure does less than justice to the real and potential contribution made by the taxpayers of the province, whereas a system based essentially on parity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland services does not give sufficient scope for a Northern Ireland administration to make choices. In any event, given the current pressures on United Kingdom resources, it sees no possibility of the pre-1972 system being restored nor, indeed, would it wish it to be restored.

123. Accordingly, this Convention concludes:

(i) That it should be the role of a strong regional government to deal with economic and social problems.

(ii) That it should be the responsibility of a strong regional government to determine economic and social priorities.

(iii) That the systems which existed in the latter years of the Northern Ireland Parliament and during the brief lifetime of the Northern Ireland Assembly were unduly restrictive and inhibited local variations.

(iv) That there should be provision for divergences in approach to spending as compared to the rest of the United Kingdom.

(v) That there should be supplementary financial assistance related to Northern Ireland needs from the United Kingdom Government.

(vi) That there should be scope for some Northern Ireland variations in taxation.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS

124. The U.U.U.C. makes two recommendations; a Bill of Constitutional Rights to guarantee the stability and integrity of the Northern Ireland Constitution, and a general Bill of Rights and Duties to protect the rights of the individual citizen.

Bill of Constitutional Rights

125. The object of the U.U.U.C. in proposing the enactment of a Bill of Constitutional Rights is to ensure that the Act which establishes a new Parliament for Northern Ireland would require as an integral step in any subsequent repeal or amendment the assent of the devolved legislature. The stability and integrity of the Northern Ireland Constitution would thereby be guaranteed against the arbitrary revocation of devolved responsibilities.

The relationship between the provincial legislature and Parliament at Westminster must be precisely defined at the outset. The conventions and customs governing Westminster/Stormont relationships between 1921 - 1972 manifestly failed to cover the situation which arose in 1972 when the Parliament of Northern Ireland was prorogued despite the bulwark of the Ireland Act 1949.

It is important to establish constitutional certainty. When this is absent fear and distrust can be aroused, and some may be tempted to resort to agitation with a view to achieving a change in governmental institutions through political intervention from London. Where political activity is geared towards shaping opinion in an outside forum the evolution of natural political life is gravely hindered.

Apart from these legal and constitutional issues, a simple human fact is embodied in the historical experience of the development of the British Commonwealth. A country cannot be given a measure of self-government; its people allowed to live with the daily habit of exercising that self-government; and then for all this to be revoked by the central power, without creating great resentment and a profound lack of trust for the future.

126. Such a Bill of Constitutional Rights does not conflict with the principles of parliamentary sovereignty. It is not proposed that the new constitution for Northern Ireland should be incapable of amendment, but rather that a special procedure be enacted for that purpose. In the past enactments have altered the procedures necessary for legislation to be passed in accordance with the law of Parliament. Here it is necessary to distinguish the manner in which a power must be exercised from the issue of whether that power exists. The sphere of Parliament’s legislative competence is unlimited but procedures within that sphere must still be followed. This restriction does not affect the sovereignty of the legislature.

127. The Bill of Constitutional Rights should form an integral part of the Constitution Act.

Bill of Rights and Duties

128. The second part of the U.U.U.C. proposals is for a Bill of Rights and Duties to be enacted for the whole of the United Kingdom. The objects of such a Bill would be educative as well as legislative and accordingly it is important that the duties of citizens as well as their rights should be spelled out. Rights and duties correspond - the right of one party presupposes a correlative duty imposed upon another. The reference to duties also serves to clarify thinking on civil liberties issues in times of emergency. Those whose rights may have to be suspended will often have themselves rejected the various duties which must be observed if fundamental legal rights are to be maintained for the benefit of all.

129. The various groups mentioned below are not opposed to the U.U.U.C. proposals in principle. Their views, addressed to a possible Bill of Rights, are as follows:

The S.D.L.P. advocates that the European Convention on Human Rights should be made part of the domestic law of Northern Ireland and that in addition Part III of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which outlaws religious and political discrimination, should be retained. In this way the Courts will gradually be able to assess standards of fairness for the whole Northern Ireland community which will in course of time eliminate tensions and strengthen the authority of all institutions of Government in Northern Ireland. This is a wider role for the Courts than has ever been envisaged under the British Parliamentary system. In this way S.D.L.P. advocates a Bill of Rights being inserted into the law in an endeavour to ensure that every citizen can look to the Courts as the final interpreter of his rights as well as of community standards; the respect for the Courts should resemble that enjoyed by the Federal Supreme Court of the United States.

The Alliance Party states that there should be a Bill of Rights based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights forming part of any new Northern Ireland Constitution and enforceable by the Courts. The U.P.N.I. states that it should be the responsibility of the Northern Ireland legislature to deal with all legislation in this field. The N.I.L.P. believes that ideally there should be uniform legislation throughout the United Kingdom on all matters of citizens’ rights and civil liberties. This is an essential badge of common citizenship. Moreover, the retention of powers in this field by the Westminster Government will reassure all minorities that they have nothing to fear from the restoration of self-government. This should encourage all political minorities to abandon defensive attitudes and to play a full and confident part in public affairs.

130. The U.U.U.C. believes that a Bill of Rights and Duties is required to combat the growth of government, which has manifested itself in nearly all democratic societies over recent years. This trend is unlikely to be reversed in the near future. The problem posed is one of more general application than merely the sphere of confidence of devolved legislatures. Indeed the remoteness of the central administration provides a further cogent argument for the extension of the operation of such a Bill to the activities of central Government.

131. In an era of devolution in various regions of the United Kingdom uniform standards must be applied throughout the country when dealing with matters affecting the fundamental rights of the citizen. Otherwise there will arise the danger that devolution far from ensuring strength through diversity could erode the bonds of common citizenship which unite the people. Even where differing problems are encountered in different parts of the Kingdom the governmental response must be judged by a uniform set of standards. If fundamental rights of citizens were dependent upon the area of residence there could be created an unnecessary sense of grievance capable of being exploited by dissident minorities. Critics of former administrations in Northern Ireland have been vociferous in complaining that British standards did not uniformly apply in Northern Ireland.

Accordingly, a Bill of Rights and Duties ought to be enacted for the whole United Kingdom, covering uniformly central, regional and local government. However, there does not appear at the moment to be any great pressure for such legislation in the rest of Britain. If this proves to be the case the U.U.U.C. considers that the new regional legislature must give priority to enacting provisions for fundamental rights covering those fields within its competence.

132. In a society where there is political division on the issues of allegiance and sense of national identity it is of particular value that there should be a device which will ensure that the legislature is not only fair between all classes but is manifestly seen to discharge its duties in a just and equitable manner. A Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights should be constituted by the Parliament enacting the Bill of Rights and Duties to further this end.

The U.U.U.C. regards it as undesirable to have Westminster legislation limited in operational scope to Northern Ireland, not only for the reasons cited above concerning uniformity of standards throughout the Kingdom, but also in that such action would be capable of being interpreted as a statement that only in Northern Ireland was there potential for governmental abuse of power. Such a value judgement would be widely resented and in casting suspicion on those whose responsibility it will be to make the new legislature a functioning reality, would make their task appreciably more difficult.

133. A Bill of Rights and Duties is a difficult legislative subject, which as Lord MacDermott remarked in his Reservation to the Report of a Committee to consider, in the context of civil liberties and human rights, measures to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland (Gardiner Report Cmnd. 5847) does not always live up to its expectations. Nevertheless, the value of influencing attitudes both in and out of government through setting out in an unambiguous manner the values in life which embody the ethos of the State and which its people strive to uphold should not be underestimated.

134. There are few rights which may be enshrined in absolute terms. In times of emergency, restrictions on the liberty of the individual citizen may be called for in the interests of society as a whole. However the limitation of personal rights cannot be restricted to times of national crisis. Even in the United States where rights are stated in absolute form it has proved necessary for the courts to evolve doctrines whereby some limitation is read into the Bill of Rights.

135. The extent to which the judiciary is likely to be involved in controversy must be minimised particularly in view of the fact that even over the last seven years the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary has not been brought into question.

136. The provisions of the Bill of Rights should be fairly comprehensive, using the European Convention on Human Rights as a guide. This would ensure that the area of possible dispute is defined more closely thereby minimising the need for judicial intervention. Where there is the least ambiguity surrounding the principles enshrined in the Bill the likelihood of government inadvertently trespassing into the forbidden area is greatly reduced. It is not possible to catalogue in advance all conceivable circumstances. It is therefore concluded that there should be no attempt to qualify in detail the general statement of rights nor to set out exceptions. Instead it should be made clear in general terms that rights and freedoms are subject to proper limitations.

137. The Bill of Rights, in order to provide a meaningful safeguard and source of reassurance to minorities, must be entrenched so that the amending process is set apart from ordinary lawmaking. The required procedure should be stated in the legislation itself.

The means adopted will in all probability depend on whether the Bill is enacted to cover the whole United Kingdom, or whether it is left to the Northern Ireland legislature to enact a Bill of regional application.

In any event an enhanced parliamentary majority should provide the basis of the amending procedure. Consideration should be given to the issue of whether a referendum should also be included. Whilst there have now been two referenda in the United Kingdom - in Northern Ireland on 8 March 1973, and throughout the entire country on 5 June 1975 - it may well be considered undesirable to encourage the further growth of this process, which some consider an unnecessarily radical departure from traditional parliamentary methods. It may be that setting the amending process apart from ordinary legislation through the requirement of an enhanced majority, will in itself ensure that government is ‘hesitant to amend without a genuinely pressing justification.

The enhanced majority ought to be two-thirds.

138. The Bill should, inter alia, set out:

(i) the duty of government to protect and defend its citizens - this serves to emphasise that in suspending certain provisions during an emergency the government is not detracting from the rights of citizens, but is merely acting to discharge its duties by them;

(ii) the duty of the state to ensure fair and equitable electoral representation for all its citizens irrespective of the region in which they reside;

(iii) the duty of citizens to abide by the law and to respect the rights of their fellows;

(iv) a general limitation that in the exercise of rights the citizen is subject to such limitation as is necessary to secure due recognition of, and respect for, the rights of others and the requirements of morality, public order, and the general welfare. It should also be stated that there is no protected right to engage in activity aimed at the destruction of the principles contained in the Bill of Rights.

139. All current legislation covering the area of human rights, together with anti-discrimination legislation, should be consolidated and pass within the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland legislature. Amendments could only be made in accordance with the Bill of Rights and other constitutional principles.

It is of vital significance that the regional legislature can itself deal with those shortcomings which will appear in any legislation particularly of this nature, after a period of operation.

140. A provision in a new Constitution to protect the exercise of religious freedom and prohibit the establishment or endowment of any religion, similar in intention to section 5(1) of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, would be welcomed.

141. Accordingly this Convention concludes that there should be a Bill of Constitutional Rights to guarantee the stability and integrity of the Northern Ireland Constitution and a general Bill of Rights and Duties to protect the rights of the individual citizen.

 

EXTERNAL RELATIONSHIPS

142. The U.U.U.C. believes it to be the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government in consultation with the Government of Northern Ireland to ensure that the interests of Northern Ireland are adequately represented in international affairs. In particular, with the growing importance of the E.E.C. and other international organisations, it may be necessary to have direct representation at Strasbourg, Brussels and New York, similar to that which obtained in the Home Office after 1940 when an Assistant Secretary from the Northern Ireland Cabinet Office was seconded for service. The Northern Ireland Cabinet Office should continue to be involved in any business with representatives of other countries which it is proper for the Government of Northern Ireland to conduct (e.g. visits by ambassadors or High Commissioners accredited by London).

143. In October, 1972, the Rt. Hon. William Whitelaw presented to Parliament "The Future of Northern Ireland -a Paper for Discussion". This document in paragraphs 76 to 78 scrutinised relations between Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, under the sub-section headed "The Irish Dimension". Paragraph 78 declared that "It remains the view of the United Kingdom Government that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide what should be their relationship to the United Kingdom and to the Republic of Ireland: and that it should not be impossible to devise measures which will meet the best interests of all three". The statement is an acceptable basis for proposals on External Relations because the controversial and untimely decision made at Sunningdale to create all-Ireland institutions under the terms of the envisaged "Council of Ireland" was taken without an informed consideration of the democratic wish of the people of Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland have no desire to live in hostility with their neighbours in the Republic of Ireland and it is accepted that there are significant areas where cross-border co-operation can take place, but the unwelcome claims made in the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland, and the inconsistencies evident in the attitude of various Dublin Governments to the vexed issue of internal security both North and South, have contributed to a climate of suspicion in which mutual respect and tolerance have little room to grow.

144. The S.D.L.P. has declared its commitment to what it terms "An institutionalised Irish Dimension", but there is little indication that such an institution or institutions could be "freely agreed" in the present circumstances, nor are such institutions concomitant with the original concept of an Irish Dimension as outlined above. It is the only party which demands an institutionalised link.

The U.U.U.C. rejects any imposed institutionalised association or other constitutional relationship with the Republic of Ireland. However it acknowledges that there is an Irish dimension in that there are security and economic problems common to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Economic matters should be tackled by both governments by means of schemes of mutual benefit, the Northern Ireland Parliament having the legislative power to deal directly and effectively with the Dublin Government. This proposal might be catered for by some form of arrangement between the Northern Ireland Government and the Government of the Irish Republic such as might arise between member countries of the E.E.C. but it would require a normalization of relationships between the countries and in particular a de jure recognition by the Republic of Ireland of the status of Northern Ireland and an abandonment of its claim to de jure sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

145. The U.U.U.C. recommends the extradition method as the most effective means of dealing with the problem of bringing to trial persons alleged to have committed crimes of violence, however motivated, in any part of Ireland irrespective of the part of Ireland in which they are located - persons known as "fugitive political offenders". It endorses the case argued in Chapter VII of the Report of the Law Enforcement Commission (Cmnd 5627) for its adoption. The U.U.U.C. thinks it fair to point out that in the existing state of the law in the Republic of Ireland, while it is sometimes difficult to say what is a political offence or an offence connected with a political offence, there is very little reason to think that either the police or the judiciary in the South have done other than follow the law. The main bone of contention between people is what the law ought to be in the various parts of the British Isles. Words cannot easily convey the affront given to members of the security forces and the civilian population of Northern Ireland in general by the haven which the Irish Republic affords to persons who have committed crimes of enormous barbarism.

146. The S.D.L.P.’s proposals are put forward as a package. Without explaining or substantiating its case it says that these proposals are the best possible guarantee for the Unionists. Its proposals are put forward as part of its objective to unite the people behind the institutions of government, including an institutionalised Irish Dimension, because, in the opinion of the S.D.L.P., the present crisis in Northern Ireland cannot be solved without such an Institution, it emphasises, however, that it should be entered freely. Its responsibilities would include the development of matters of common concern in the socio-economic field and a standing agreement on security between North and South to be activated when a state of emergency is declared in either part of the island. A small North/South Security Council would implement and oversee the agreement and would operate only during a state of emergency. The S.D.L.P. recommends that Section 12 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 (which deals with relations with the Republic of Ireland) should be continued in the new constitutional settlement and there that should be added to it a power in the Northern Assembly, by a substantial majority, to have transferred to any agreed all-Ireland authority certain functions which may, for the time being, be reserved to Westminster. But the U.U.U.C. rejects this idea as putting into foreign control non-transferred matters. The S.D.L.P. asserts that in the context of Europe the old sectarian feud in Northern Ireland, and between Irish Nationalism and British Rule, in these islands, may in time be accommodated in a larger loyalty. It would be tragic if the opportunity which broadening horizons give, was to be lost in the pursuit of political objectives which, not many years from now, may seem to have been irrelevant.

147. The Alliance Party recognises the need for practical co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on many issues which are of common concern to both parts of the island, not least in the field of security. It considers a formal institution such as a Council of Ireland to be unnecessary in attempting to achieve such co-operation.

The U.P.N.I. seeks agreement between the sovereign powers in London and in Dublin for open co-operation between the R.U.C. and the Gardai with the aim of having comprehensive law enforcement throughout the island. It likewise seeks agreement for Ministers in Belfast and Dublin to co-operate On economic matters. It does not believe that there is any requirement for any statutory body on these affairs. It does believe that there should be a treaty between the sovereign governments in London and in Dublin recognising the boundaries of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

The N.I.L.P. recognises the need to look beyond the frontiers of Northern Ireland and to develop good relations with neighbours. But it stresses the need for realism; there is a price to be paid for North/South co-operation. In particular, the Irish Republic must not lay claim to the territory of the North and must acknowledge the right of the Ulster people to determine their own destiny. Equally, the North would recognise the value of co-operation, between equals, with the South. Such parity of esteem is essential for progress, but once it is established Irish people should find no difficulty in working out agreed forms of contact, beneficial to both parts of the island. In pursuing an Irish Dimension, there is the possibility of losing the more important Ulster Dimension of partnership in the North.

148. Accordingly this Convention concludes:

(i) That external relations should be the responsibility of the Government at Westminster in consultation with the Government of Northern Ireland;
(ii) That good neighbourly relations should be welcomed but that imposed institutionalised associations with the Republic of Ireland should be rejected.

 


 

PART III

THE WAY AHEAD: CONTINUING POLITICAL ACTIVITY

149. Under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 the Secretary of State may extend the life of the Convention by periods of up to 3 months at a time, or may recall the Convention at any time up to 6 months after submission of this Report or after any further dissolution. He may also order the holding of a poll or polls for the purpose of obtaining the views of the people of Northern Ireland on any matter contained in or arising out of the Report, or otherwise concerned with the future government of Northern Ireland.

150. The Convention is conscious of the fact that in any case a period, at least of some months, must ensue before any new system of government could be carried into law. It is important that any delay in considering the implications of the Report, or in establishing a new system of government, must not be allowed to result in a political vacuum in Northern Ireland which would encourage the public to turn their attention from the activities and work of elected political representatives to those of subversive agencies. As has already been noted, Members of the Convention have been forced by public demand to take on the role of constituency representative in dealing with the social and other problems of their constituents. They are willing to continue to perform this duty after the Convention has reported, and in any period of extension and recall, and believe that facilities should be provided in order to enable them to do so.

151. Several of the parties have made suggestions for using the services Convention Members during this interim period, and any further period of what has become known as ‘Direct Rule’. The Ulster Dominion Group urged the dissolution of the Convention on presentation of its report - U.U.U.C on the other hand, while wishing Direct Rule to end as soon as possible advocated that the Convention should be kept in being to advise the Secretary of State until new institutions had been established. Alliance advised a continued period of Direct Rule in default of agreement in the Convention, U.P.N.I. wished Convention Members to receive the same facilities as Members of Parliament for dealing with constituency problems, and N.I.L.P. urged the continuance of Direct Rule in ‘a dynamic form’ while the Convention continued to search for a constitutional solution. N.I.L.P. also advocated the development of the present form of Direct Rule, specifically by the appointment of a Council of State of local people to advise the Secretary of State.

152. The Convention believes that the device of a poll or referendum provided for in the 1974 Act ought to be used sparingly and only with great care and thorough preparation. The electorate of Northern Ireland was asked to go to the polling booth no fewer than seven times between March 1973 and June 1975 - once for the Border Poll, once the for Common Market Referendum, once for Local Government Elections on Proportional Representation, once for the Northern Ireland Assembly on Proportional Representation, twice for British General Elections on the simple majority voting system and then for this Convention, again on Proportional Representation. If a worth-while response is to be obtained from the electorate at a future Referendum on matters arising from this Report, then those matters will have to be chosen in consultation with the Convention so that the Political Parties in Northern Ireland may be in a position to campaign for or against the selected issues. The people also must be convinced that Her Majesty’s Government will pay heed to their voice as expressed through the ballot box or else the process of democracy becomes a mockery.

153. To sum up: the Ulster position, composed as it is of so many complex factors deriving from history, geography and the tragedy of recent years, does not lend itself to any solution based on some contrived constitutional formula. The Conventional has been unable to agree on fundamentals. In the distress and violence of the times this is hardly surprising. The U.U.U.C. remains convinced that maximum stability will be obtained with a Prime Minister and executive, chosen on conventional Parliamentary lines. The S.D.L.P. and other groups favour a ‘power-sharing’ or ‘coalition’ system. This is the basic difference of view. In addition, the S.D.L.P. supports an institutional link between Northern Ireland and the Republic, in relation to security and other fields, whereas the U.U.U.C. regards such a link as undesirable window-dressing which prevents proper attention being given to greater co-operation from the Republic on security.

The U.U.U.C. wishes to stress however that the Convention debates showed the wide areas of agreement that exist between the Northern Ireland political parties. The most important is that all significant groups wish a devolved administration within the United Kingdom to be re-established. Nearly all groups favour a unicameral legislature. There is general agreement that in some form or other any new system should provide for greater participation by representatives of the Northern Ireland minority and for a Bill of Rights. There is broad agreement that a devolved government should be free to choose priorities within its overall resources - United Kingdom and local. None of the groups favoured the 1973 arrangements under which the Secretary of State had a responsibility for the composition of the Northern Ireland executive, and under which the executive had not control over the R.U.C. The debates on economic and social problems showed a further measure of agreement on policy between the parties on these issues.

The text of the Report shows the different emphasis attached to these and other topics by the parties. It is probably fair to regard ‘power-sharing’ or ‘coalition’ as the only barrier to substantial agreement.

Agreement does not need to be unanimous to be real. Nevertheless in a short space of six months the Convention Members as the democratically elected representatives of the people, have worked hard to present their Report which broadly represents not only the will of people but a scheme which holds hope for the future in conformity with the 1974 Act.

154. Accordingly this Convention concludes that Her Majesty’s Government should make all haste to end the political vacuum, defeat terrorism, and, recognizing the political realities, restore devolved Government to Northern Ireland: in the interim the Convention should continue in being as a representative forum of the people of Northern Ireland until the administration is formed, and tender advice to the Secretary of State.

155. We wish to finish our Report by expressing our thanks to the Chairman, the Rt. Finn. Sir Robert Lowry, who from the outset placed his stamp upon the Convention by his command of procedure and the authority of his rulings. He set us all an example by his dignity and attentiveness throughout our deliberations. On the very few occasions when admonition was called for, it was delivered with a light touch and a ready wit. He was always available to us for consultation, listening with sympathy and responding with wise council. Although it may seem unnecessary for us to do so, we nevertheless wish to place on record that fact that in every aspect of our business he maintained the utmost fairness and impartiality.

We also wish to record our appreciation of the work done for us by the staff, including not only Mr. R. H. A. Blackburn and the other senior advisers but also the Accounts Office, the Hansard and Library staffs, the Vote Office and the Table Office, the Catering Staff and the Doorkeepers. It was a pleasure to be served by officers who at every turn displayed efficiency, courtesy and friendliness in the best of the Ulster Public Service.

 


 

PART IV

LIST OF CONCLUSIONS REACHED BY THE CONVENTION

Consistent with Section 2(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 the Convention worked for the provision of a government of Northern Ireland on the basis of the only constraint therein i.e., that likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland.

It was noted with approval that in the Northern Ireland Act 1974 the United Kingdom Parliament did not impose any constraints such as power-sharing in an executive or all-Ireland institutions.

Therefore it concluded.

1. That Northern Ireland should be administered by an elected body and an executive empowered to legislate and govern and to be known as the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland. (para. 36).

2. That legislation affecting devolved matters should be enacted by the Queen in Parliament and Her Majesty should be represented in Northern Ireland by a Governor appointed by Her Majesty to exercise such consititutional function and perform such ceremonial duties as She is not able to fulfil in person. (para. 38)

3. That there should be a Privy Council of Northern Ireland in which some places should be offered to leading members of major opposition parties. (para. 40).

4. That the number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament at Westminster should be increased to between 20 and 24, the boundaries and exact number of the constituencies to be determined by judicial commission on a basis and scale similar to comparable parts of the United Kingdom. (para. 43).

5. That the office of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should lapse and those services not directly administered by the devolved administration should be the concern of a Secretary of State for the devolved regions of other senior Cabinet Minister. (para. 46).

6. That the Parliament of Northern Ireland should be unicameral and a term should not exceed five years. The Chamber should consist of not less than 78 and not more than 100 members who are British citizens. (para. 61(i)).

7. That the Parliament of Northern Ireland should be able to legislate in matters affecting the franchise, elections and disqualification for membership of that Parliament. (para. 61 (ii)).

8. That the devolved government for Northern Ireland should have powers broadly similar to those conferred by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. (para. 73).

9. That the formation and operation of the executive should conform to the practices and precedents of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. (para. 96(i)).

10. That the Queen’s Representative should invite the leader of the largest parliamentary party or group to form a government. (para. 96 (ii)).

11. That the selection and dismissal of ministers should be at the discretion of the Prime Minister, who should not be compelled to include members of any particular party or group. (para. 96 (iii)).

12. That no country ought to be forced to have its in Cabinet any person whose political philosophy and attitudes have revealed his opposition to the very existence of that State. (para. 96 (iv)).

13. That the Government should be responsible to Parliament and the Cabinet should be collectively responsible for its decisions. (para. 96 (v)).

14. That the Prime Minister should be entitled to remain in office until he has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Parliament. (para. 96 (vi)).

15. That the number of Cabinet Ministers should not exceed eight.(para. 96 (vii)).

16. That a Committee system be should devised to give real and substantial influence to an opposition and to make Parliament more effective. (para. 111(i)).

17. That covering each Department of Government there should be a Departmental Committee of 8 or 10 backbenchers drawn equally from Government and opposition supporters with normal parliamentary voting rights. (para. 111 (ii)).

18. That each Committee would be involved in the legislative process and scrutiny of Government action relating to its Department. (para. 111 (iii)).

19. That there should be a Rules Committee drawn from the whole House. (para. 111 (iv)).

20. That it should be a role of a strong regional government to deal with economic and social problems. (para. 123 (i)).

21. That it should be the responsibility of a strong regional government to determine economic and social priorities. (para. 123 (ii)).

22. That the systems which existed in the latter years of the Northern Ireland Parliament and during the brief lifetime of the Northern Ireland Assembly were unduly restrictive and inhibited local variations. (para. 123 (iii)).

23. That there should be provision for divergences in approach to spending as compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. (para. 123 (iv)).

24. That there should be supplementary financial assistance related to Northern Ireland needs from the United Kingdom Government. (para. 123 (v)).

25. That there should be scope for some Northern Ireland variations in taxation (para. 123 (vi)).

26. That there should be a Bill of Constitutional Rights to guarantee the stability and integrity of the Northern Ireland Constitution and a general Bill of Rights and Duties to protect the rights of the individual citizen. (para. 141).

27. That external relations should be the responsibility of the Government at Westminster in consultation with the Government of Northern Ireland. (para. 148 (i)).

28. That good neighbourly relations should be welcome but that imposed institutionalised associations with the Republic of Ireland should be rejected. (para. 148 (ii)).

29. That Her Majesty’s Government should make all haste to end the political vacuum, defeat terrorism, and, recognising the political realities, restore devolved Government to Northern Ireland: in the interim the Convention should continue in being as a representative forum of the people of Northern Ireland until the administration is formed, and tender advice to the Secretary of State. (para. 154).

This Convention puts forward these conclusions in the belief that they offer a firm basis upon which all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland can live and work together under the rule of law in peace and justice, participating democratically in all decisions which affect the future themselves and their families; of Northern Ireland and of Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom. A draft Constitutional Bill based on these conclusions is included as Appendix 6.

 

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