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The Government of Northern Ireland
- Proposals for Further Discussion (1980)

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Text: NIO ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The Government of Northern Ireland

Proposals for Further Discussion

Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by Command of Her Majesty
July 1980

Published in London by,

Cmnd. 7950

ISBN 0 10 179500 9

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The Security Background
The Financial and Economic Background
Reconciliation and Stability
The Outer Framework
How should the Executive be formed
Provision for Minority Participation
Responsibility shared within the Executive
Responsibility shared within the Assembly
Summary of Proposals for a locally elected Administration


Proposals for Further Discussion



1. In this Document the Government sets out proposals for the government of Northern Ireland in the light of recent discussions, in particular at the Conference of Northern Ireland political parties earlier this year, to which detailed reference is made below. The Government would hope, following further discussion and consultation with all the parties, to put forward specific proposals for legislation in the next session of Parliament.

2. As a first step towards the development of these proposals the Government announced in October 1979 its intention to convene a Conference of representatives of the four main political parties in Northern Ireland - the Alliance Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Democratic Unionist Party, and Ulster Unionist Party (who did not accept the invitation but instead submitted a paper to the Government setting out their considered views). To prepare the ground for this Conference the Government published in November 1979 a Working Paper (Cmnd 7763) which set out the principles within which, in the Government's view, new arrangements should be sought, and put forward for discussion a number of possible approaches to, and illustrative models of, new governmental arrangements.

3. The principles set out in the Working Paper were:

    "(i) The powers should be transferred to elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland and the overriding authority of Parliament will (as elsewhere in the United Kingdom) be preserved;

    (ii) In the words of the Statement of 25 October, [1] there will have to be "reasonable and appropriate arrangements to take account of the interests of the minority". Those arrangements will have to be acceptable to both sides of the community and also to Her Majesty's Government. The political divisions of the people of Northern Ireland are such that the alternation of the parties in government which is so important a feature of the Westminster system is unlikely to take place. In the Government's view it is essential for a transfer of powers to be made in a way which will take account of the interests of both parts of the community;

    (iii) Under any new arrangements, existing safeguards and remedies against discrimination on religious or political grounds should be at least maintained, and, if possible, improved;

    (iv) Responsibility for defence and foreign affairs (including relations with the European Community) will remain with the United Kingdom Government and Parliament, as will responsibility for the courts and electoral matters;

    (v) In the foreseeable future, given the Government's overriding commitment to combat terrorism, responsibility for law and order will also remain with Westminster;

    (vi) The general power to raise revenue by taxation will remain with Westminster; but this would not rule out the possibility of a local power to levy a rate;

    (vii) Public expenditure in Northern Ireland will continue as at present to be assessed on the basis of need, and to be financed with support as necessary from the United Kingdom Exchequer."

4. The Conference met in Parliament Buildings at Stormont under the Chairmanship of the Secretary of State for 34 half-day sessions between 7 January and 24 March; it then agreed to adjourn in order to allow the Government to prepare proposals for further discussion in the light of the Conference. The Conference began with submissions in which the three party leaders in turn set out their views on the question of the future government of Northern Ireland. Those submissions were published by the parties. Thereafter the Conference worked through an agenda based on the questions listed on page 11 of the Working Paper.

5. The Secretary of State has also had separate but parallel discussions with some of the Northern Ireland political parties on matters outside, but relevant to, the subject matter of the Conference. These talks enabled the parties who took part in them to inform the Secretary of State, and through him the Government, of their views on security and economic (including EEC) issues.

6. The Conference had the merit of bringing together, for the first time for some years, leading members of all but one of the main Northern Ireland political parties for detailed and sustained discussion of the problems involved in establishing a new administration in Northern Ireland. These exchanges were of value to the Government and, it is hoped, to the parties. They did not lead to a negotiated agreement for a future pattern of government. That was never expected: the Conference was aimed at establishing the highest level of agreement between the parties rather than identifying a single detailed scheme of government to which all would subscribe. But the parties made clearer to one another, and to the Government, where they stood on the various issues that arose, what would be acceptable to them, and what would not.

7. Part II of this Document outlines certain important considerations which in the Government's view should influence the form of any new arrangements. Part III sets out, in the light of the conclusions which the Government has drawn from the Conference, its proposals for further discussion.



63. It is not desirable to continue indefinitely with the system of "direct rule" as the means of governing Northern Ireland. The Government seeks therefore to bring about a transfer of responsibility for some of the powers at present exercised from Westminster to locally elected representatives, in accordance with the principles set out in its Working Paper for the Conference on the Government of Northern Ireland (reproduced in paragraph 3 above). The Government believes that the proposals set out in this Document could secure such a transfer in a way calculated to meet the special needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

64. The Government now intends to embark on the fullest possible programme of consultation and discussion. If, in the event, it concludes that proposals along these lines would secure the acceptance of the people of Northern Ireland and the participation of their political leaders in their operation, it will bring forward legislative proposals before Parliament. In the absence of such acceptance, the Government would then explore other ways of making the government of Northern Ireland more responsive to the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. Such alternatives could involve a progressive approach to the transfer of a range of powers to a locally elected Assembly, such as that mentioned in paragraph 6 of the original Working Paper for the Conference.

65. Her Majesty's Government urges all sections of the Northern Ireland community to give serious consideration to the proposals in this Document bearing in mind the urgent need of the province for institutions which will assist in the task of reconciliation and reconstruction. It is the Government's firm hope that thereby can be achieved a system of government which the people of Northern Ireland will support.

[1] Statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the House of Commons on 25 October 1979 announcing the Government's intention to convene a conference of the principal political parties in Northern Ireland (Official Report, Cols 625-6).

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