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Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention - A Summary of Main Events



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Text: Martin Melaugh
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Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention - A Summary of Main Events

 

"There was no agreement between the UUUC and the rest of the assembly’s members. The UUUC drew up a report which was essentially a Unionist wish-list, seeking a return to majority rule and ruling out any new Council of Ireland. The report wanted a new Stormont with even greater powers, a doubling of Northern Ireland seats at Westminster, and the introduction of an oath of allegiance to the Queen for all major appointments. Nationalists were offered little more than the prospect of chairing some committees."
McKittrick, David., and McVea, David. (2000), Making Sense of the Troubles. Belfast: Blackstaff Press. [pp.113-114]

 

Following the collapse of the power-sharing Executive in May 1974 the British government proposed that a Constitutional Convention be established to see if there was any agreement amongst the political parties on a form of government. The proposals were contained in a White Paper 'The Northern Ireland Constitution' (Cmnd. 5675), which was published on 4 July 1974. Enabling legislation, the Northern Ireland Act 1974, was passed by the House of Commons on 17 July 1974. The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) also published a series of three discussion documents in advance of the first meeting of the Convention. The election to the Convention was not held until 1 May 1975. The United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC), which was opposed to power-sharing and any 'Irish dimension', won 47 seats out of the total of 78.

The first meeting of the Constitutional Convention was held on Thursday 8 May 1975. Robert Lowry, then Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, chaired the session. There were to be 30 sessions in total and the Report of the convention was published on 20 November 1975. The report represented the UUUC recommendations for the way forward and thus favoured a return to 'majority rule' with a series of Committees to monitor the working of government departments. The proposals were rejected by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI), and the British government. Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, asked the Convention to reconvene on 3 February 1976 for a period of one month to consider the possibility of further progress. In the end no compromise was reached and Rees announced the dissolution of the Constitutional Convention on 9 March 1976.

 


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