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Government of Northern Ireland: A Society Divided

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

Northern Ireland
Discussion Paper 3


Government of Northern Ireland:
A Society Divided

Published in London by,

ISBN 0 11 8803247

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Prepared by the Northern Ireland Office
©Crown copyright 1975
ISBN 0 11 880 324 7
Demand No. 288784 K40 1/75


Foreword by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

This Discussion Paper is the third in a series prior to the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention for which elections will be held early this year.

The task of the Convention, as set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1 974, is to consider "what provision for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the most widespread acceptance throughout the community there".

No community can survive, let alone progress and flourish, unless the system of government commands widespread acceptance on a continuing basis. This is all the more true where, as in Northern Ireland since its inception, society has been divided. The divisions are those of different traditions, cultures, loyalties, religions and aspirations.

It is because of the persistent nature of the divisions in Northern Ireland that there is a need for partnership and participation in public affairs at all levels. It will be a matter for the Convention to consider and discuss what form - out of many possibilities - this sharing of power and responsibility might best take. I n my Foreword to the second Paper in this series, Constitutional Convention: Procedure, I wrote:

"The direction of public affairs in government can and must be shared by those from all parts of the community who are concerned for the good of all the people in Northern Ireland. What form this sharing and partnership could best take to gain widespread acceptance will be a matter for the Convention to discuss".

The task of the Convention is not an easy one but it is not insuperable. The Convention will be elected by the people of Northern Ireland, and will be representative of all those who live and work there. They have the knowledge of the past and present and the main interest in the future.

Government is more than a question of a constitutional structure and legislation. It is deeply concerned with people; with the whole fabric of society; with industry, commerce, jobs, housing, social and health services; agriculture; education and many other services which in one way or another affect everyone's daily life. In all these areas much remains to be done for all the people. Though there are real divisions, the community has far more real needs in common on which it can unite.

More thought and time should be given now to examination and discussion of these needs.

The Annexes to this Paper set out some of the functions of government at regional and local government level which affect the daily lives of every person in Northern Ireland. The main requirement is for good, fair and efficient management and administration; including decisions about the allocation of resources, on which information has already been published in the First Discussion Paper on Finance and the Economy.

The Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 sought to provide a basis for genuine sharing of power. The Act is still there and can be used as a framework for discussion. It contains much which is relevant to any Constitution.

There is other experience which can be helpful. Northern Ireland is by no means unique in having a community which is divided. The Paper contains some references to constitutional arrangements in other countries. This does not imply that there has been a directly comparable situation elsewhere or that a solution can be directly transferred from one country to another. What is true is that other countries have found ways of accommodating differing communities.

The Discussion Paper does not seek to suggest a particular solution. It sets out some facts, relates some experience, and outlines some possible approaches.

The gravity of the task facing the Convention and the people of Northern Ireland after years of violence in a society which is divided is there for all to see. Only by working together and through the genuine sharing of power can a divided society come together. There is an opportunity through the Constitutional Convention to bring about a lasting, stable and peaceful society. It is up to all the people of Northern Ireland.

February 1975

Merlyn Rees


Democratic Government and
Shared Responsibility

This Part discusses the means by which democratic countries develop institutions of government to suit their own needs. It describes the pattern of institutions which has evolved in Britain, and explains why a system which works well in the rest of the United Kingdom has proved to be unsuited to the special needs of Northern Ireland, which flow from the existence of a divided community there.

1 There are certain structures which are common to all democratic countries. They have legislatures-parliaments or assemblies, however described -which make the laws, and in which members elected by the people to represent them normally have the dominant voice. They also have governments - a person or a body of people in control of the various Departments of government and the services which they operate, and thus in a position to take decisions.

2 Powers to make laws and to take decisions are not necessarily all retained at the national level. Many countries have regions within them which have their own characteristics and needs. Thus, it is frequently the case that there are regional as well as national institutions - regional legislatures and regional governments which, within their own region and in accordance with their own defined responsibilities, also make laws and take decisions.

3 Moreover, because local communities wish to have a voice in the direction of affairs closest to them, there is normally a structure of local government, usually elected, with responsibility for certain local services. Since modern government is so complex and demanding, both national and regional governments frequently attach specific responsibilities to public bodies created for a specific and specialised purpose.

4 These broad structures exist in most countries, but each country has developed its own distinctive pattern of institutions, in response to its own needs. In the United Kingdom, the system which has evolved is that of a central government controlled by a collective Cabinet of Ministers drawn from, and answerable to, the elected national Parliament. Below this level there is a structure of elected local authorities and various appointed bodies which administer a wide range of public services.

5 Although the Government is now committed to establish Scottish and Welsh Assemblies, only Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom has had experience of institutions with power both to make laws and to take decisions on a large number of regional matters. These were not sovereign institutions. Sovereignty remained at Westminster, as did the responsibility for a number of important matters such as foreign policy, defence and the management of the economy. Apart from its share of taxation Northern Ireland received a subvention from the Westminster Parliament.

6 In Northern Ireland there was, up to 1972, a regional Government responsible to an elected regional Parliament. The theory and structures were similar to those at Westminster but the practical effect was quite different. In the United Kingdom, while the government is normally drawn from the elected majority, parties in office change, and power and responsibility are shared over the course of time. Thus a governing party in the United Kingdom has all the power of office for part of the time. In Northern Ireland, a governing party, drawn virtually entirely from only one part of a divided community, had all the power for ail the time.

7 It is the nature of the division in the community which has caused the failure in Northern Ireland of institutions based, without substantial modification, on the British pattern. The population is divided - as it is not elsewhere in the United Kingdom - into two distinctive communities, each with its own heritage, culture, religious affiliations, traditions and aspirations. This division permeates the conflict of parties, and fixes the relationship between majority and minority.

8 The experience of recent years in Northern Ireland leads to the inescapable conclusion that general acceptance of the system of government cannot be achieved unless there is widespread and genuine participation in it. That is the only basis for government by consent. A temporary minority reconciles itself to opposition by the knowledge that it has enjoyed a period in government before and will do so again. A large permanent minority - if it represents not just a party or a political view, but a whole community - is likely, if it sees no prospect of a genuine chance to share in the direction of affairs, to oppose not just the Government of the day, but the whole system of government itself. While criticism and opposition have their own important part to play in the democratic process, they are not enough as a permanent role for a whole community.


The Present Structure of
Government in Northern Ireland

This Part gives a general outline of the present constitution of Northern Ireland, which is based on the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.

9 The basic constitutional law is the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1 973. Those parts of the Act which deal with the Assembly and Administration are, for the moment, suspended by the Northern Ireland Act 1974, but they have not been repealed, and all the other provisions of the Act remain in full force and effect.

10 The scheme of the 1973 Act is one of a division of powers between the sovereign national Parliament and the United Kingdom Government and the regional Assembly and Administration. Under this scheme, powers are divided in the following way:

"EXCEPTED" MATTERS (Schedule 2): These are national, as distinct from regional, matters in respect of which the Westminster Parliament has retained the sole right to make laws for Nor tern Ireland. They include elections and the franchise. all existing taxation, and the appointment of all members of the judiciary. The responsibility for taking decisions about these subjects is correspondingly retained by United Kingdom Ministers (for example, judicial appointments by the Lord Chancellor, taxation by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and elections and franchise by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland).

"RESERVED" MATTERS (Schedule 3) these, also. are matters in respect of which Parliament has retained law-making powers for itself. The distinction between this category and the "excepted" category is that laws in these fields may, also be made by the regional Assembly with the consent of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (and subject to eventual Parliamentary approval at Westminster); and that, at a later time, these law-making powers may be given by Parliament to the Assembly, free from this restraint. The "reserved" matters include criminal law, the maintenance of public order and the police. While they remain "reserved", the responsibility for taking decisions about these subjects is also retained by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and other United Kingdom Ministers.

"TRANSFERRED" MATTERS: These are all matters other than those "excepted" or "reserved", in practice covering the great bulk of civil government functions in Northern Ireland. In respect of them the regional Assembly could make laws and the regional Administration take decisions. (A detailed list is given in Annex 1.)

11 The Northern Ireland Assembly consists of seventy-eight members, elected from the twelve Parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland by the Single Transferable Vote method of proportional representation.

12 Sections 7(4) and 25(4) to 25(7) required the Assembly to establish, for each Department of the regional government, a consultative committee to be chaired by the political Head of that Department, who had a duty to consult it when formulating policy and proposing new legislation. These committees, taken as a whole, were required by statute to reflect in their membership the respective strengths of the parties in the Assembly.

13 The services controlled by the regional government were to be operated by the nine Northern Ireland Departments Finance Health and Social Services; Manpower Services; Education; Agriculture; Commerce; Housing, Local Government and Planning; Environment; and Community Relations - each under the direction of a political Head. Collectively these Heads of Departments, together with others appointed without specific departmental responsibilities, would form the Northern Ireland Administration. whose directing core would be the Executive, presided over by the Chief Executive Member.

14 Appointments to the Administration were to be made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen. Section 2(1) of the Act of 1 973 required the Secretary of State, in making such appointments, to be satisfied

"that a Northern Ireland Executive can be formed which, having regard to the support it commands in the Assembly and to toe electorate on which that support is based, is likely to be widely accepted throughout the community, and that having regard to these matters there is a reasonable basis for the establishment in Northern Ireland of government by consent."

The Act thus required the Secretary of State, in making his appointments, to apply a series of tests. The regional government appointed by him had to represent a reasonable basis for government by consent. How was this likelihood to be assessed? By the presence of widespread acceptance throughout the community. What were to be the indications of such widespread acceptance? The extent and nature of support in the Assembly and amongst the electorate.

15 The foregoing provisions of the Act of 1973 operated from January to June 1974. An Executive was appointed with effect from 1 January consisting of the Chief Executive, his Deputy, the Heads of seven of the Departments, and two others. The Administration of fifteen was completed by the Heads of the other two Departments and two further office-holders. The Administration collapsed at the end of May and the Assembly was prorogued. The effect of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 was to provide that for an interim period, initially one year from July 1 1974, the legislative functions of the Northern Ireland Assembly would be suspended and laws made for Northern Ireland by Orders-in-Council; no appointments to a Northern Ireland Administration would be made; and the Northern Ireland Departments would discharge their functions subject to the direction and control of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

16 Other provisions of the Act of 1973 are unaffected. These include in particular the extensive provision made by Part III of the Act for the prevention of religious and political discrimination.

17 First, Section 17 of the Act provided that any legislative Measure of the Assembly should, to the extent that it discriminated against any person or class of persons on the ground of religious or political belief, be void. Moreover. Section 18 made special provision for legislation alleged to be discriminatory to be tested before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. During the interim period these procedures apply to Orders-in-Council as they applied to Measures.

18 Second, Section 19 of the Act made unlawful any discriminatory act by a Minister. Department or public body, and it provided that a person who believed himself to be a victim of such discrimination should have the right to bring a court action against the authority concerned.

19 Third, Section 20 of the Act provided for the appointment of a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, for the purpose of:

a advising the Secretary of State on the adequacy and effectiveness of the law for the time being in force in preventing discrimination on the ground of religious belief or political opinion and in providing redress for persons aggrieved by discrimination on either ground;

b keeping the Secretary of State informed as to the extent to which the persons, authorities and bodies mentioned (ie. the various Ministers, Departments, public bodies, etc) have prevented discrimination on either ground by persons or bodies not prohibited from discriminating by that law.

This Commission, whose chairman is Lord Feather, is at work.

20 These provisions of the 1 973 Act supplemented other provision already made for the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland. including the creation of the offices of Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Commissioner for Complaints.

21 A description of the structure of government must also take account of the extent to which Northern Ireland Departments are responsible for matters which, in other parts of the United Kingdom, are wholly or partly the concern of local government.

22 In 1970 a Review Body on Local Government in Northern Ireland. chaired by Mr (now Sir) Patrick Macrory advised a major centralisation of services. The recommendations of the Review Body, accepted by the Northern Ireland Government of the day and re-affirmed by the then Secretary of State after the introduction of "direct rule" in 1972, had the effect of adding to the regional administration many of the functions of a local authority for the whole of Northern Ireland. Under the changes which came into effect in October 1 973, some of the newly-centralised services. such as planning, roads, water and sewerage, are managed and administered directly by the appropriate Department, although with a high degree of delegation of responsibility for day-to-day decisions to local officers of those Departments.

23 Other services which were centralised are managed and administered through a pattern of appointed Area Boards. Thus there are five Area Boards for Education and Libraries and four Area Boards for Health and Personal Social Services. Their members are appointed by the Head of the Department - in current practice, by or under the direction of the Secretary of State. A substantial proportion, but less than half, of the membership of each Board is drawn from the elected District Councils and care is taken to ensure that both communities, as well as the relevant interests, are properly represented. The Departments retain control of overall policy, including planning, budget approval and determination of priorities, while the Area Boards manage the day to-day activities. A more detailed account of Area Boards is included in Annexes 2 and 3.

24 Elected local government now consists of 26 District of Councils. Apart from Belfast and, to a lesser extent. Londonderry, a local government District comprises a sizeable town with its surrounding countryside, smaller towns and villages Councillors are elected by Single Transferable Vote.

25 District Councils have executive responsibilities of their own for a range of services concerned with the local environment. In addition, the Government has a statutory obligation to take them into consultation about the developments in centralised services affecting their respective Districts From their member; there is drawn n a significant part of the membership, not only of Area Boards but of various other important public bodies. The functions of District Councils are given in detail in Annex 4. (The map on the centre pages of this Paper shows the boundaries of the District Councils and the Area Boards.)

26 There are also a number of other public bodies which provide or administer services. Responsibility for building and managing Northern Irelandís public housing stock is vested in an appointed Housing Executive. supported by an advisory Housing Council with a representative from each of the 26 District Councils. Electricity generation and supply: road, rail and freight transport; and Aldergrove Airport are activities of a commercial nature managed by other appointed public bodies. A Police Authority for Northern Ireland has the statutory duty "to secure the maintenance of an adequate and efficient police force". Further details of appointed public bodies are given in Annex 5.


Patterns of Future Government

This Part begins with some general factors which must be borne in mind in considering possible future patterns of government for Northern Ireland. It discusses the contribution to a stable system which might be made by various forms of legislative or constitutional protection, but explains why such protection is not, of itself, adequate as an answer to the problems. Accordingly, it examines various possibilities for participation, first at the level of regional government, then at the local level and finally through appointed public bodies.

27 The starting-point for any consideration of future government is the present position. As explained in Part 2, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 remains the basic constitutional law. Like the Act of 1920 it "reserves" some important responsibilities to the Westminster Parliament and Government. The Act also embodies a number of powerful protections of minority interests and methods to guarantee widespread participation in the work of government.

28 It is important to recognise in any future scheme of government that the institutions needed in Northern Ireland are vitally concerned with the organisation, provision and administration on a regional basis of the services needed by the whole community - jobs, houses, hospitals, roads, schools, police and many other services. It is the way in which these services are directed and managed that has the greatest effect on the greatest number of people.

29 The objective must be to find means through which all the people of Northern Ireland may have an effective voice in the direction and management of the services which affect their daily lives. For this to be the case, whatever form of regional government may be developed must in a very real sense be made accountable to the people. In particular, it is highly desirable that the regional government should be given room to determine its own priorities and to account to the electorate for the use it makes of the resources available to it.

Constitutional safeguards

30 In many countries it is the practice to provide special safeguards to protect the rights of the whole community and of groups within it. Such safeguards work best where they are the outward and visible sign of a will to avoid the exploitation of divisions. Indeed, it is significant that some of the safeguards in the law or constitution of other countries have not had to be invoked in practice.

31 It is possible to entrench safeguards for minority rights by requiring a decision by more than a simple majority before protected rights can be changed or abolished. A "weighted" majority, for instance more than two-thirds or more than three-quarters of the votes, in place of a simple majority, could be required in the legislature or in a referendum, when the majority could relate to all those actually voting or to those entitled to vote.

32 Another version of an entrenched safeguard is the concept of a blocking mechanism, which enables a particular section of the community to prevent, or at least to delay, legislation which it considers to be against its vital interests. For example, under the present Belgian Constitution. three-quarters of either the Dutch or the French language group in Parliament can refer back to the Council of Ministers any proposed legislation which they consider harmful to relations between the communities. The two language groups have equal representation in the Council although Dutch speakers are in a majority in the country; the office of Prime Minister does not have to be taken into account for this purpose.

33 A feature of certain constitutions is special representation of minority groups in the legislature. There are several forms. In Fiji there are separate electoral rolls for different communities. In New Zealand there are four special Maori electoral districts covering the whole country. In Mauritius additional members can be nominated to make up the numbers of an under-represented group. In Belgium. Switzerland and other countries a second chamber is designed to give particular weight to distinctive groups

34 As a variant to the use of a second chamber, a constitution could provide for separate communal councils, either inside or outside the national Parliament. In Belgium, for example, there are separate Cultural Councils, each comprising all the members of the appropriate linguistic group in both Houses of Parliament. Such councils could represent the interests of their particular communities and have a final say in such community matters as education or religions or linguistic questions.

35 In Switzerland there is a form of direct democracy or plebiscite whereby any law passed in Parliament to amend the federal constitution has to be approved, in a referendum, by an overall majority of the voters as well as a majority of the cantons. In addition, there is a complementary device, known as the popular initiative, whereby a substantial body of citizens can cause a referendum to be held on their own proposals for amending the federal constitution. At the cantonal level of government this device can be used to secure a referendum on whether a law passed in the local legislature on any subject should come into effect, or alternatively on whether any proposed law should be introduced into the legislature. These procedures thus allow a substantial minority to have its propositions considered, although not necessarily carried.

36 A number of countries have introduced Civil Rights legislation aimed at preventing various forms of discrimination or Bills of Rights which codify the rights and freedoms of every individual. Reference has already been made in Part 2 to the safeguards of this character embodied in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973.

37 A feature of modern constitutional development in many countries is the adoption of the office of Ombudsman or Protector of Citizensí Rights, first developed in Scandinavia. In Northern Ireland there is both a Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, concerned with complaints against central government, and a Commissioner for Complaints, concerned with local authorities and public bodies. Both offices are held at present by the same person.

38 Further details of the use of some of these devices in other countries are included in Annex 6 of this Discussion Paper.

39 A further safeguard for minority interests exists when, above the regional institutions of government, there is a national Parliament. It is then a matter for the sovereign Parliament to decide for itself what matters it wishes to reserve, or to require that certain things may be done at the regional level only with the approval of national Government or Parliament.

40 Safeguards as described in the foregoing paragraphs are, however, generally negative in character. While they can be of value in preventing discrimination or injustice, they can never be adequate to provide that genuine sense of participation by both communities which is needed in Northern Ireland.

Ministerial government

41 There are two principal ways in which participation in a regional government might be achieved; through a ministerial system or an executive committee system. The essence of a ministerial system is that each Department of government has a single political head, and that those heads collectively form an Administration which co-ordinates the policy, programmes and activities of government as a whole.

42 Following an election, there are various ways in which an Administration might be formed. In some countries there is a directly-elected President or chief executive who carries out this task. In Northern Ireland, in accordance with tie British tradition, the actual appointments have normally been made by or on behalf of the Crown. This power of appointment can, however, be exercised within a process by which the local politicians take the lead in bringing an Administration together.

43 Under a system by which the other members of the Administration are the servants or subordinates of the President or chief executive, the power of appointment is subject to relatively little check. If, on the other hand, the Administration is required to be drawn from, and responsible to, the legislature, the power of appointment must be exercised so as to produce an Administration which will command the confidence of a parliamentary majority. It is, however, possible to require that other conditions must be satisfied - for example, a condition that the Administration must he broadly-based. This, indeed, is the type of condition embodied in the Northern Ireland Constitution At 1973, by which the Secretary of Stare is required to appoint an Executive which, in his view, will be widely accepted throughout the community and represent a basis for government by consent.

44 More specific conditions could be required. It could be provided that, before actually taking office, an Administration must be approved by a cite of the legislature. There could be a requirement that certain elements mast be included in any Administration. In Belgium, for example, the Dutch and French language groups are guaranteed equal representation in the Council of Ministers by the Constitution, regardless of their respective strengths in the Belgian parliament. Any such requirement has to be defined in terms of some relatively fixed and identifiable community - a language group or a religious denomination - rather than of particular part or political organisations, whose structures and composition may well change appreciably from time to time.

45 It would also be possible to provide for a broadly-based government within a system of direct or indirect election. For example, the people as a whole could vote for party lists of candidates for office, with the Administration reflecting the strength of support for the various lists; or the legislature itself could elect the Administration by a method ensuring a reflection of the respective party strengths there.

46 In this context the practice in Switzerland is of interest. There the supreme executive body of the Confederation or "national government", the Federal Council, is elected by the Federal Assembly or parliament. The Swiss Constitution ensures that the Federal Council has a representative character by stating that no canton may provide more than one of the seven Federal Councillors. This constitutional requirement is reinforced by the long-standing convention of "voluntary proportionality", so that in general the three largest cantons each provide one Federal Councillor, the French and Italian-speaking cantons together provide two or three, and the overall composition of the Council is, over a period of time, kept roughly proportionate to the strength of the four main political groups in the Federal Assembly.

47 Any of the possible methods of forming a broadly-based Administration would be likely to lead to the formation of a government drawn from more than one party. In most countries in which this is the norm, there is frequently a lengthy period of discussion and bargaining between parties before a new government is established. In both Belgium and the Netherlands, for example, the Crown frequently relies upon an elder statesman or distinguished person outside current politics to report on possibilities before asking a party leader to take the lead in trying to form a new government.

Government by executive committees

48 The alternative to a system of ministerial government is a system of government by executive committees, which must not be confused with consultative or monitoring committees. For example, the statutory consultative committees of the Assembly, established under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, had an important role in advising and assisting the heads of Departments in the formulation of policy. But the right to be consulted, to scrutinise, to advise and to monitor is totally different from direct involvement in the executive business of government itself. Under a system of executive committees, instead of a government Department having a single individual as its political head, it would operate under the direction and control of a committee.

49 Executive committees of this kind would be drawn from the legislature and would be representative of party strengths there. This could be achieved either by a method of election designed to secure proportionality, or by a general requirement that the various committees, taken as a whole, must reflect party strengths, leaving the make-up of individual committees to be determined by inter-party discussion and agreement. Some means might be required to share the chairmanships between the various groups over a period of time.

50 It would also be necessary to consider how the activities of the various Departments could be properly co-ordinated, and how priorities could be determined, under such a system. This would require a co-ordinating or "general purposes" committee, possibly also dealing with finance, which might consist of the chairmen of the various departmental executive committees.

51 A system of executive committees would have the effect of involving a wide section of public representatives in the day-to-day work of government. The more widespread such participation, the greater would be the possibility of softening those divisions which would otherwise exist between those who are exercising power and those who are not.

Local government

52 The point was made in Part 1 that the work of government is not carried on by "central government", whether in the national or the regional sense, alone. A major contribution is also made by elected local authorities and for this reason it is important that there should also be partnership at this level. In Northern Ireland, as explained in Part 2 (with further detail in Annex 1) the local government structure at present consists of 26 District Councils with local environmental functions, and some of the most important functions of local government in Great Britain are in Northern Ireland functions of central government, which administers them either directly or through appointed Area Boards. It has been argued that this process of centralisation has been carried too far in Northern Ireland and ought to be reversed. It is not a purpose of this Discussion Paper to examine the merits of that argument but rather to consider to what extent means for participation can be found at the local government level.

53 It has long been the practice for British local government to conduct its business on a committee basis. Thus, councillors of all parties have a voice before decisions are taken; but the extent to which the voice of a minority is actually taken into account in decisions reached, or representatives of a minority allowed to become chairman of a council or a council committee, depends upon the attitude of the local majority. In this respect, existing practice in Northern Ireland varies a good deal.

54 It has sometimes been suggested that the ideal means to guarantee wide participation in public affairs in Northern Ireland would be to establish a comparatively small number of powerful local authorities, within which there would be a relatively homogeneous population largely governing itself. While the Convention may wish to examine this possibility, important practical considerations must be borne in mind. It would be no light matter to contemplate fartís re-organisation of important public services which are still adjusting to tile last round of change. That apart. the political geography of Northern Ireland does not lend itself to tidy division into relatively few areas of homogeneous population.1 In any event the designation of areas to satisfy political or sectarian considerations could create a problem which would not be in the interests of management and administration or the provision of regional services.

Statutory bodies

55 As described in Part 2, and illustrated in greater detail in Annex 5, many important responsibilities of government in Northern Ireland are carried out by appointed statutory bodies. These are agencies appointed by central government, either "national" or "regional", although in some cases members may be nominated by local authorities or other bodies. Each is responsible for a distinct functional area of responsibility.

56 In other respects, however, statutory bodies of this kind vary considerably. They may have been set up to run an essentially commercial enterprise. e.g. electricity or transport, or to take contentious areas of responsibility to some extent outside political influence and control, e.g. the police or house building and allocation, or to act as agents of government Departments to ensure local involvement in administration of particular services, e.g. education or health and social services.

57 Statutory bodies may be established either on a regional or sub-regional basis. The boards to control them may be appointed by national or regional government. The opportunity for participation at this level depends in each case upon the way in which powers of appointment are defined and exercised. Thus, for example, any proportion may be drawn from, or nominated by, elected local authorities. Members may be drawn from panels of candidates nominated by particular "interests". Formulae may be prescribed to which the appointing authority must have regard in selecting the members.

58 Some countries rely heavily upon functional bodies. In Sweden, for example, the few and comparatively small central Ministries are concerned principally with overall policy, while the day-to-day management of affairs is largely in the hands of state agencies, each in charge of some particular aspect of administration and management. This system goes beyond the concept of public corporations for commercial activities, since it includes such agencies as a National Schools Board and a National Labour Market Board.

59 A more extensive use of functional bodies in Northern Ireland would certainly be possible. Because of their appointed character, it would be easy to ensure that diverse interests were represented on their managing boards. There is, on the other hand, a strong argument that services affecting on a daily basis the lives of people should be under direct democratic control. It can also be argued that there is a real problem of financial accountability. Where a statutory body is trading, its relationship with its own customers and the need to balance its accounts ensures some financial discipline; but a non-elected body providing, on a non-commercial basis, a service which is largely or wholly financed out of taxation, may give too low a priority to considerations of efficiency and economy.

60 To some extent considerations of this kind can be taken into account in prescribing the relationship between a functional body and its parent Minister or Department. It can be given virtually complete autonomy within limited but well-defined powers; or it can be made subject to specific or general directions; or it can be established as an agent of the Minister or Department Whatever the pattern, it is inevitable that an agencyís budget for expenditure and use of resources must be controlled by Government.


61 Part 3 of this Paper has examined a number of the theoretical ways in which participation in government in Northern Ireland might be secured. In describing them, it is not the purpose of Government to commend any particular pattern or structure. Some of the means described, or variations of them, may have a contribution to make towards a suitable scheme of government. What is important is that the scheme ultimately recommended by the Convention should, taken as a whole, meet the vital basic principles described in Part 1. There must be genuine and widespread participation in the business of government, so that there may be government by consent. At the same time participation inevitably carries with it responsibility; there must be a sharing of the burdens as well as the benefits and a common desire among all those who participate to uphold the system of government.

62 The basic condition for the survival and effectiveness of any scheme of government is the will to make it work. Without that will. even the most ingenious and fair-minded system will fail. The Constitutional Convention gives to the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity to show their will to work together and to find a system of government to which the overwhelming majority can subscribe.


1 Appendix 1 to Appendix 4, which shows the results of the last government elections in Northern Ireland, illustrates this point, though it does not necessarily reflect the present state of the political parties.


Transferred Government Functions:
Departmental Responsibilities

The main functions of the Northern Ireland Departments in relation to Transferred Services are described in the following notes. (In addition, several Departments operate agency services for Excepted and Reserved matters under the control of United Kingdom Departments.)

1 Department of Finance
Control of expenditure of Northern Ireland Departments; liaison with United Kingdom Treasury and Northern Ireland Office on financial matters; borrowing; loan advances.
Economic and social planning and research; Ulster Savings. Striking of regional rate and collection of regional and district rates.
Ordnance Survey ;Valuation; Provision and maintenance of public buildings; liaison with Construction Industry; Historic Monuments.
Registration of births, marriages and deaths; registration of deeds; registration of title of land.
Law Reform; Public Record Office; Charities.

2 Civil Service Management Division
Civil Service Whitley Council; Conditions of Service for Civil Servants; Civil Service salaries and superannuation; recruitment; staffing; welfare; training; computer and management services.

3 Department of Health and Social Services
Social security (i.e. all cash social services); personal and public health services (including hospitals, family doctors, dentists. chemists and opticians); and personal social services (including child care and adoption).

4 Department of Education
The development of primary, secondary, further (including adult) and higher education; oversight of Area Education and Library Boards which are responsible to the Department for the local administration of the education and library services; teacher training; examinations (including selection and review procedures); youth welfare and youth services; museums; Arts Council; Armagh Observatory.

5 Department of Agriculture
Development of agricultural, forestry and fishing industries.
Administration of legislation and schemes relating to farm improvement, crop improvement, plant health, livestock improvement, animal health, horticulture, agricultural loans, arterial drainage, water recreation, forestry and forest recreation, fisheries, marketing and processing.
Advisory services; agricultural research education and training.

6 Department of Commerce
Development of Northern Irelandís industry and commerce; administration of schemes of assistance to industry, including linkage with Local Enterprise Development Unit and Northern Ireland Finance Corporation.
Electricity and other fuels; development of tourism; harbours (other than fishery harbours); mines and quarries; mineral development; consumer protection (including weights and measures).
Registration of companies, societies, credit unions and trade unions. Control of insurance companies and unit trusts.
Department of Industrial and Forensic Science.

7 Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning
Public Housing. Slum Clearance, Redevelopment and Housing on
Local Government - District Councils.
Planning (preparation of Development Plans, Development Control and Enforcement).
Comprehensive Development (Redevelopment - other than Housing - of town, district and village centres).
Amenity Lands (country parks. nature reserves, areas of natural beauty, wild life protection).

8 Department of Community Relations
Formulating and sponsoring policies for the improvement of community relations.
Administering the Social Need (Grants) Act (Northern Ireland) 1970.
Sport and recreation ; first-aid repairs to bomb damaged residential property.
(Note: The Government has announced its intention of amalgamating this Department with the Department of Education.)

9 Department of the Environment
Construction and maintenance of roads and bridges; street lighting; traffic management.
Fire services; transport; road safety; PSV inspection; driving licences.
Water services; sewerage services; environmental protection; pollution control; clean air; public cleansing; alkali and radio-chemical inspection.

10 Department of Manpower Services
Employment Service; employment and unemployment statistics; advisory service to companies.
Direct labour schemes (through Enterprise Ulster); Government Training Centres; Integrated Workforce Units; Industrial Training Boards; Management Training; Training-on-employers-premises Scheme.
Conciliation Service; Industrial Relations; Factory Inspectorate; Disabled Persons; Redundancy Pay; Selective Employment Payments; Wages Councils.


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CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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