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Northern Ireland - A Framework for Devolution (1982)

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Text: NIO ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

Northern Ireland
A Framework for Devolution
Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by Command of Her Majesty
April 1982

Published in London by,

Cmnd. 8541

ISBN 0 10 185410 2

Copyright notice:

Crown copyright material has been reproduced under licence from the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationary Office.
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Scrutinising, Consultative and Deliberative Functions
Committees of the Assembly
Report on Devolution of Powers
Partial Devolution
Full Devolution
Appointments to the Executive
Procedure in the Assembly
Reserved Matters
Financial Arrangements
Sustaining Devolution
Summary of Proposals


1. Her Majesty's Government believes that there is an urgent need for the people of Northern Ireland to have a new opportunity to resume greater power and responsibility in running their own affairs.

2. Direct rule from Westminster has been accepted as a temporary arrangement. But it is not a long-term answer. As a result, there is a continuing uncertainty in the Province, which undermines its political stability.

3. Political stability, economic recovery and the defeat of terrorism go hand in hand. Political instability discourages the domestic and international investment so vitally needed to create confidence, prosperity and jobs. In recent years, there has been serious industrial decline in Northern Ireland notably in traditional industries; and the rate of unemployment is half as much again as that of Great Britain. There is a direct link between the creation of a durable and fair system of government and the ending of the violence which has brought so much suffering to Protestant and Catholic alike. Confidence in political institutions and in the political process generally would further isolate the terrorists and sharpen the contrast between terrorist crimes and the pursuit of political goals by peaceful means.

4. The Government's proposals do not require any group in Northern Ireland to compromise its deeply held beliefs. They provide an opportunity for both sides to create a workable form of government in the interests of the common good and in the face of the urgency of the Province's problems. It will be for the people elected to a Northern Ireland Assembly to decide whether they are prepared to adopt this approach.

5. The Government believes that the politicians of Northern Ireland have an inescapable responsibility to work out an acceptable scheme for themselves. The Government will institute any reasonable scheme of administration which has the support of a substantial majority of the Assembly and is acceptable to both sides of the community. It does not underestimate the difficulty of achieving agreement. These proposals, however, will assist in that process. They are designed to fulfil the twin criteria of fairness and flexibility. They are fair and set out clearly the requirements of the United Kingdom Government and Parliament in any scheme. They also establish an entirely new degree of flexibility which provides the opportunity for a scheme to be evolved which will bring back real political participation to the people of Northern Ireland.


Summary of Proposals

64. There follows a broad summary of the main legislative proposals in this White Paper:

    (i) The Government is bringing before Parliament a Bill to give effect to its constitutional proposals (paragraph 30).

    (ii) There will be an election to a new Northern Ireland Assembly (paragraphs 31-32).

    (iii) The Assembly's functions pending devolution Of powers will be consultative and deliberative, including scrutiny of draft legislation and making reports and recommendations to the Secretary of State which he will lay before Parliament (paragraphs 34-35).

    (iv) Prior to devolution there will be a requirement to have committees of the Assembly, corresponding to each Northern Ireland department. Each departmental committee will have a paid Chairman and Deputy Chairmen to whom the Secretary of State and the Minister responsible for the department will look for guidance. Membership of the committees, and the allocation of Chairmanships and Deputy Chairmanships, will so far as practicable reflect party representation in the Assembly (paragraphs 36-37).

    (v) It will be for the Assembly to consider and report on how powers should be exercised. The powers in question are those in the "transferred" category (paragraph 38).

    (vi) The essential criterion for devolution is that representatives of both sides of the community should agree on how executive powers should be discharged. If not less than 70% of the Assembly approved a Report recommending how powers should be exercised, the Secretary of State would place that Report before Parliament. If Parliament approved the proposals-and in expressing a view to Parliament the Government would have regard to the extent to which they commanded the necessary support in Northern Ireland-a devolution order would be laid. If a Report containing proposals for devolution obtained less than 70'% agreement in the Assembly, it would nevertheless still be open to the Secretary of State to invite the Assembly to submit that Report to him if he believed that its proposals were acceptable to both sides of the community; the Report would then be laid before Parliament and powers could be devolved if Parliament agreed (paragraph 43).

    (vii) There could be partial devolution under which the responsibilities of one or a group of Northern Ireland departments would be devolved (paragraphs 45-48).

    (viii) The Assembly could proceed to full devolution of powers either directly or via partial devolution. Either way, Parliament would have to be satisfied that the Assembly's proposals commanded the necessary support (paragraphs 49-50).

    (ix) Under full devolution the Northern Ireland Executive will consist of not more than 13 members. Members of the Executive could be replaced following consultation with the parties (paragraphs 51-52).

    (x) The "reserved" matters specified in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, including law and order responsibilities, will remain in that category. They could be placed in the "transferred" category in due course. The Assembly, and an Executive when formed, will be kept fully informed about security policy (paragraph 54).

    (xi) Under partial devolution, the Assembly would have substantial financial responsibilities, although the Department of Finance and Personnel would not be devolved. Following full devolution, freedom of decision in financial matters would be as under the constitutional arrangements of 1973 (paragraphs 55-60).

    (xii) If, following full devolution, the Executive lost the support on which the proposals leading to devolution had been based, devolved powers could be returned to the Secretary of State. If all powers returned to the Secretary of State, the Assembly could be prorogued; or it could continue in being with scrutinising, consultative and deliberative functions. If there were no prospect of forming another Executive, the Assembly could be dissolved (paragraph 61).

Other points of importance are that:
    (xiii) It is now for the Parliaments in London and Dublin to consider whether there should be an Anglo-lrish body at Parliamentary level in which Assembly members from Northern Ireland could take part (paragraph 23).

    (xiv) A devolved government in Northern Ireland would be free to make bilateral arrangements and agreements with the Government of the Republic of Ireland within the field of "transferred" functions (paragraph 24).


65. Since direct rule was re-established in the Spring of 1974, successive attempts to devolve powers to a representative Northern Ireland body have bailed because agreement could not be reached on how those powers should be exercised. The present proposals are flexible and provide a framework within which an acceptable arrangement may be developed: an Assembly, involved in the conduct of current public business from the day it first meets, will be able to choose between full or partial devolution. These arrangements provide an opportunity to establish a stable and durable system of government acceptable to both sides of the community.

66. The proposals offer an opportunity to move forward from the political sterility of recent years to a system of devolved government, with all the benefits which such a system could create for the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland. The novel and flexible arrangements proposed in this White Paper should help the Assembly in its major task of achieving agreement. Procedures in themselves, however, cannot alone solve the intractable problems which have made agreement in Northern Ireland so difficult for so many years. They will need to be matched by flexibility and willingness to explore novel approaches on the part of the representatives elected to the Assembly. The Government believes that the people of Northern Ireland will expect politicians in Northern Ireland to respond positively to the opportunity provided by these proposals, in the interests of the long-term future of the Province and the rest of the United Kingdom.

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