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Ulster Unionist Party (1972) 'Towards the Future: A Unionist Blueprint'

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Text: Ulster Unionist Party ... Page Compiled: Brendan Lynn


Ulster Unionist Party Publication (1972)

Belfast: Unionist Publicity and Research Dept.



Northern Ireland is facing the greatest crisis in the fifty years of its existence, a crisis which will determine not simply the future forms of Government in Northern Ireland, but whether or not the people of Ulster are to continue to determine their own destiny.

It is a time of change and challenge; a time for new and original ideas rather than the digging of old trenches. We must not allow bitterness about the past or the present, to cloud our judgments about the future.

The Unionist Party has attempted to meet this challenge by producing a constructive and comprehensive blue-print for the future institutions of government in this part of the United Kingdom. The people of Ulster have been confused an uncertain about the future for too long. We have, I believe, produced a set of proposals which can point the way firmly to the future. THEY ARE PROPOSALS WHICH COMBINE REALISM WITH IDEALISM, WHICH CAN PROVIDE DURABLE STRUCTURES ALLOWING FOR FULL PARTICIPATION BY ALL REASONABLE MEN.

The Unionist Party has frequently been accused by its enemies of being a party which refuses to face up to change. I hope these plans will finally demolish the credibility of such accusations. We have never claimed that the system provided for in the 1920 Act was perfect; BUT WE HAVETRIED TO MAKE IT WORK.

Some of the ideas in this blue-print have already been put forward for discussion by a Unionist Government. We have also included many new ideas: a small executive in a large unicameral Parliament. a radically expanded committee system (which would be a central feature of the new Parliament), the replacement of the Special Powers Act, and a comprehensive Bill of Rights. These and many other ideas should be honestly studied by all the people of Ulster.

We have judged our proposals by two criteria: the safeguarding of the union, and the creation of structures which would permit all reasonable people to play their part in public life. Surely the problems of our community can only be solved by Ulstermen themselves, meeting, talking and debating, in their own institutions.



1. Background

2. A Regional Parliament

3. A Unicameral Parliament

4. The Executive

5. A Committee System

6. Powers

7. Finance

8. Security

9. Safeguards for Minorities:
    - A Bill of Rights
    - Other Safeguards

10. Relations with Southern Ireland


1. Background

Our object in producing this blue-print for the future is to provide institutions that will attract, or, failing that, persuade, all reasonable sections of the community, apart from the irredeemable hard core, towards an acceptance of and a participation in the public life of Northern Ireland. This has not happened to a completely satisfactory extent during the fifty year existence of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Parliament started its career amidst boycott and it was suspended in March against a background of boycott.

Now is not however a time for looking back. Northern Ireland has seldom had a more difficult situation to face militarily and politically. In producing this document we have tried to face up squarely to our problems and produce a system that will both safeguard the Union and permit all reasonable people to play their part.

This is not the first time Unionists have put forward constructive - and detailed - proposals for the future. As early as June, 1971, the Unionist Government of Northern Ireland produced proposals for the development of a system of Committees in the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

In October, 1971. the Government produced proposals for discussion on the future development of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland. As late as February of this year, further proposals were made to the United Kingdom Government. For a variety of reasons these proposals have at no time been allowed to be the subject of discussion with the other Northern Ireland political parties.

At all times, therefore, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and his colleagues have been ready to join at the conference table with all the elected representatives from the other parliamentary parties in Northern Ireland in discussions with regard to the future government of the province. If such discussions can now take place they will be welcomed by Unionists who, for their part, would have preferred them to have taken place twelve months ago.

While we would not agree to any departure from established constitutional practices. our proposals are open for discussion by party and country alike.


2. A Regional Parliament

We are convinced that, whatever else may be kit open for discussion, there must be a strong regional parliament and government in Northern Ireland. We are not so concerned about the structure of this parliament as about its role in the community and its powers.

  • It is absolutely clear that if Northern Ireland were governed entirely from London, a significant minority of the population would remain totally opposed to the administration. It is equally clear that if Government were centred in Dublin. a majority of the citizens of the province would owe the administration no allegiance. These things being so the basic tension and division of the community can only be resolved inside a parliament of Northern Ireland.
  • The geographical isolation of the province from the rest of the United Kingdom, the dangers of impersonal administration from a distant capital and the general movement of opinion in favour of devolution to the regions within the United Kingdom all argue for a separate parliament in Northern Ireland.
  • The province has a number of problems which are unique in the Kingdom: several of these such as education arise from community divisions; others arise from acute economic problems. for example. lack of raw materials, dependence on imported animal foodstuffs, high unemployment: others arise from locally developed structures - for example. the legal system and parts of the law concerning land tenure are substantially different: others from matters of conscience and morality which affect legislation.
  • Finally local government in the province is being reorganised in accordance with a set of proposals which depend on the existence of a strong regional legislature. Elected representatives have a smaller range of powers in the new district councils and only a limited proportion of the seats on the several new area boards. Only in a regional parliament would they have the predominant role and it is here that major problems have to be dealt with.
  • In a community which has very high political involvement, it is essential to have plenty of roles for political activists to play and we believe these roles must be ones which involve the exercise of real influence. These roles could not be found at Westminster and in any case it is most unlikely that Westminster will want to he involved in the minutiae of housing and other local government problems for more than the most limited period.


3. A Unicameral Parliament

We can see no reason to advocate a two chamber system on the Westminster model. Indeed any shortcomings in the Northern Ireland Parliamentary system hitherto may have been due to too slavish an imitation of the Westminster model in circumstances which that model was not evolved to meet.

The Senate serves four main purposes. First, it provided a constitutional safeguard, since its composition only reflected that of the House of Commons after a period of time. Consequently it gave time for second thoughts in the event of any extreme swing at a general election. Second, it had power to check House of Commons legislation- a power rarely, if ever, used. Third, it scrutinise and revise the drafting of legislation. Fourth, it provide a forum for general debates. The third and fourth of these tasks would be undertaken by the new committees (see below).

It was suggested in 1971 that the senate might be expanded to include a number of able people from outside the purely political sphere. However if the single chamber is expanded along the lines advocated later, there should develop an able and professional cadre of politicians including specialists in most significant fields.

The single chamber should be larger than the present House of Commons in order that there are sufficient members to staff the Executive and Committees and still have a sizeable back bench. The ideal number might be about 100. This increase in the number of M.P.s would reduce the need for Proportional Representation since there would be fewer wasted majorities.

There must in the new Parliament be a recognised opposition with a salaried leader supported by appropriate facilities.


4. The Executive

This we propose should be smaller than the Cabinet and Government heretofore. We suggest five or six major departments in addition to that of the Prime Minister, each being headed by a Minister.

These would be the Departments of Home Affairs; Development, Health and Social Services; Commerce and Finance; Education and Community Relations; and Agriculture. The Ministers could, if necessary, be supported by junior Ministers in the more important departments. This distribution of responsibilities would of course be the prerogative of the Prime Minister, but regard should be had to keeping the numbers of salaried ministerial posts to a minimum. The benefit of a strong back bench is one asset that should be maintained in the new Parliament.

The executive would be obliged to work very closely with the new committee system and the chairmen of committees, of whom there would be six.


5. A Committee System

This is the kernel of our proposals for a new Regional Parliament. It would involve far greater direct participation in (government by every parliamentary party, opposition parties as well as government, than was ever possible before. We propose the establishment of a system of six committees covering the main departments of government. These would be:-

  • The Home Affairs Committee. This would effectively have within its terms of reference the functions of the Department of Home Affairs: Police. Prisons, Courts. Licensing and so on.
  • The Committee on Development and the Environment. This would cover the responsibilities of the Departments of Development and Health and Social Services. It would include such functions as Local Government, Sewerage the Hospital and Welfare Services. Housing and Roads within its terms of reference.
  • The Committee on Education and Community Relations. Again, this would cover the affairs of the Department concerned.
  • The Committee on Commerce and Finance. This Committee would look after a wide range of fiscal and commercial matters including industrial incentives. tourism, the budget and whatever forms of taxation are to be decided locally (for example Rates).
  • The Committee on Agriculture. Since this is so central to the life and well being of our community. It is thought that there should be a separate committee covering agricultural matters.
  • The Public Accounts Committee. This would he similar to and perform the same function as did the present public accounts committee.

Committee membership would be drawn from Parliament and should reflect party strength there. Of the six committees at least three would be chaired by members of opposition parties. This gives a good opportunity to ensure that chairmanships of committees are reasonably spread among the political parties in Parliament.

The Chairman’s role would be vital to the working of the Committee. He should be given a substantial salary, would have access to the Executive by memoranda or invitation on Committee matters and could be considered for membership of the Privy Council. His function would be not only to chair the committee but to draw up the agenda and determine the order of business. Such a person must be experienced, respected and capable, since a great part of the value of the committee’s work will depend on the ability and personality of its chairman. For this reason the post. which in practice would be full time, should be made as attractive as possible.

We propose that the Committees should employ their own staff and independent specialists.

Size of the Committees:
Bearing in mind the size of the new Parliament and the need to represent Party strength there adequately. we believe the optimum number of committee members should be seven to nine. It is desirable that the Committees should be small enough to permit a good close working relationship between members.

Selection of Committees: We propose that the members of Committees be appointed by the Prime Minister after consultation with the leaders of all parliamentary political parties. Membership would then be ratified by parliament as a whole. This would avoid an excessive power of patronage and permit the evolution of strong parliamentary conventions about manner of appointment.

Consideration should he given to attendance allowances for members of committees in order to differentiate somewhat between committee members and the rest of the members of parliament. This incentive would ensure that membership of committees is attractive to all the members of parliament.

Powers and Functions of Committees: All legislation would pass through the relevant committee in a similar method to the present committee stage of Bills at Westminster. Since these committees will be closely concerned with a specialist field, and because of the intimate working relationship that will result between members of a committee, the review of legislation by committee would be much more effective than it was in the whole House of Commons.

Their influence, considerable anyway. will obviously depend on the development of a committee as opposed to a party approach to issues. This in the smaller, more intimate conditions provided by the committee system should be more easily achieved than it was in the House of Commons. The Committees will very rapidly develop their own esprit de corps and sense of independence.

As well as considering the legislation sponsored by the executive, the committee would have power to sponsor its own. Obviously in its role of considering and formulating policy it would have the power to promote its own ideas. As a result the committees occasionally would clash with the Executive on such matters, but we strongly feel that the very process of working out solutions to these problems would be part of the new techniques in co-operation that would have to be learnt. All legislation would of course have to be finally approved by the House.

Apart from the consideration of policy and legislation a major function of each committee will be to review Executive action and the Administration’s implementation of both policy and legislation. Here the Committees would have power to invite Ministers and Civil Servants to appear before them. In all these matters they would have their own independent sources of advice.

Hearings would be in public or in private at the discretion of the committee.

Benefits of a Committee System. Some of these we have already mentioned above.

The Committee system is designed to allow the maximum minority influence commensurate with majority government. The committees will, by their role and their prestige, exert considerable influence and will be somewhat removed from party politics. The specialist nature of the committees will not only ensure this is so but will result in the raising of the general standard of policy discussion.

  • Following a referendum on the constitution and with the establishment of a Bill of Rights, we hope these committees will open the way for a co-operation in government and a participation in public life by the minority that has not yet been seen in Northern Ireland.
  • The powers of the Executive are not substantially reduced except in one sphere. The Executive is now smaller, the Parliament larger. The responsibility for getting a legislative programme implemented would still be with the Minister for the Department, but now he would have to work through a powerful committee with considerable influence in the House, There can be no doubt that Government is not made easier by such a system. The Executive does not control the committee in the same way as it could control a House of Commons. Every department’s actions will therefore be closely scrutinised by a committee.
  • The Committees would offer considerable advantages. They would greatly broaden political participation while blunting political controversy in policy making. This would allow a double check on legislation that removes the necessity for an Upper House and because of their power to amend all legislation, they answer the demands made for a power of veto or inbuilt blocking mechanism.


6. Powers

Given that there now exists an opportunity to recast the powers of the Northern Ireland Parliament to take account of the changes in the past fifty years. we should not be bound by The division in the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

In that Act the division was roughly as follows:

Crown Internal Security
Armed Forces Prison and Legal System
Foreign Relations Agriculture
Major Taxation Education
Post Office Regional Economic Development
Coinage Health and Social Services
External Trade Local Government
  Rating and Valuation

The powers we would advocate should be given to the local Parliament would be basically those listed above, but it should have adequate powers to apply financial measures to further the regional economy. Such powers would have to be subject to E.E.C. scrutiny but might include special rates of V.A.T., for example, on animal foodstuffs and regional employment premiums.

There is need for a closer liaison with Westminster respect to E.E.C. matters and external relations generally.

Internal and external security is dealt with in a separate section.


7. Finance

The arrangements under which the Province has been financed have become unsatisfactory not least because of the heavy burden of Social Security benefits. It is easy to extract figures from published accounts to show that expenditure in Northern Ireland is very much greater than the tax revenue raised here and the difference would still be large, even if account is taken of the many hidden reverse payments. This would apply to many other areas of the United Kingdom if separate accounts were available for them. The payments to Northern Ireland represent common citizenship not subsidy.

New financial arrangements are in any case necessary as referred to in the recent Westminster White Paper on Northern Ireland Finance. Furthermore, accession to the European Economic Community may cause a revision of existing financial arrangements depending on the many special local problems which are likely to arise because of Common Market membership.

Such problems must be fully debated in the local Parliament and the necessary financial arrangements entered into as a result of these debates.


8. Security

However one might wish it otherwise, the most crucial element in providing stable government for the province will revolve round the control of law and order. both internal and external. There is a cult of violence in the community which leads to periodic outbreaks of violent political activity. No administration, whether Westminster based, Belfast based or Dublin based would be safe without adequate means to contain these outbreaks.

In maintaining peace one can identify the following tasks:

(a) - The defence of the province in the context of Western Europe - a task to which Ulster contributes through recruitment to the Army and through the Territorial Army.

(b) - The defence of the border and guarding of installations during periods of disturbance -a task now done by the U.D.R.

(c) - The gathering of intelligence locality by locality which enables the violent element to be watched and contained.

This is a job for police rather than the Army because it requires continuous local involvement in an area.

(d) - The control of subversive activities, riots and dealing with outbreaks of shooting, arson or bombing. This is a task which is at present being done by the Army but which in normal times could be handled by police at least up to a certain level of intensity.

(e) - Normal civilian policing - detection and prevention of crime, traffic control, etc.

(a) has always been a matter for the Army and should remain so. We advocate (b) remaining with the U.D.R. We think (c) should be added to the duties of the R.U.C. Reserve, as well as being a prime job of the RUC. We think (d) should be handled by a specially trained riot police, part of the R.U.C., with Army held in reserve as long as possible. (e) is the task of the R.U.C., supported by the Reserve.

We do not advocate special police forces for special areas. There is an urgent need to build up the R.U.C., both in numbers and morale, so that it can relieve the Army of work which no Army is trained or equipped to do. The Army is a blunt instrument for dealing with crisis situations and cannot provide the sensitive approach to maintaining order which would be provided by a cadre of localised men, familiar with terrain and clientele, essential to a good police reserve.

As far as political responsibility for security forces is concerned, the United Kingdom should retain responsibility for (a) and (b). (c), (d) and (e) should be the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government.

We are assuming that in the event of the Army being called to the aid of the civil authority there would be close liaison between the two governments because the Northern Ireland Government would continue to control the police while the United Kingdom Government would control the Army.


We propose that the Special Powers Act should be replaced by alternative emergency legislation which would not include the power to intern. The operation of this legislation would be depend-ant on an emergency being declared by the Northern Ireland Parliament and would be renewable for six months at a time as determined by resolution in that Parliament.


SPECIAL COURTS: If the Northern Ireland Parliament is to be without an interning power, then some system of Legal Procedure involving modification of the ordinary criminal law would be necessary to meet the peculiar security problems of Northern Ireland. Although only to be used under emergency powers. we propose that this machinery be kept available.

We see this as necessary

- To meet widespread intimidation of witnesses

- To protect those who give information to the authorities in areas where terrorists are strongly entrenched

- To prevent intimidation of juries

- To safeguard identity of Police Special Branch members

- To ensure speedy trials

- To modify the present exacting Criminal Law standards of evidence and proof

- To allow convictions to be more easily obtained.

At present the ordinary courts are neither equipped to deal with emergency situations, nor do they adopt a uniform approach on such matters (e.g.. bail in charges involving possession of weapons).

  • We propose the appointment of a Chief Magistrate who can give general directions on what courts will sit and also on principles to be followed in such matters as the granting of hail in cases involving terrorist activity.
  • We propose the setting up of a Special Court System to deal with eases involving either widespread sectarian violence or widespread terrorist activity. This court would have two levels. The first tier would deal with committals and all minor cases such as are at present dealt with by Magistrates Courts. The second tier would deal with those more serious eases committed for trial by Magistrates.
This court could well have direct appeal to the Privy Council or House of Lords. Serious cases would be heard before three judges.

In order to ensure the speedy and effective operation of such a system it would be necessary to amend some of the rules of evidence. We recommend the rules concerning the admission of heresay evidence should be relaxed. The court must have power to exclude from its consideration obviously prejudicial evidence but it should be put before the court. The standard of reasonable probability or balance of probabilities could be substituted for the present requirements of proof beyond reasonable doubt. We say this in the belief that this interference with the traditional liberty of the subject is a minimal substitute for the more drastic power of internment.

Other recommendations we make are

- That Special Courts do not have Jury Trial

- That hearings be in camera and if good cause be shown, police evidence could be by affidavit subject to examination by the judges.

This system would be the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Parliament. Review would be provided by the judicial committee of the Privy Council or the House of Lords.


9. Safeguards for Minorities


We propose the introduction of a precise and comprehensive Bill of Rights. This would include Rights as follows:

  • Freedom of Speech. This would not only include the spoken word but also the written word.
  • Freedom of Political Association.
  • Freedom of Practice of Religion.
  • Freedom from discrimination on religious grounds.
  • Freedom of the person and the right to trial.
Careful attention would have to be given to the content of such a Bill. It could be made very comprehensive and precise - with specific Rights for Education, Rights of Employment and so on. We are aware that there are also problems about whether the Rights listed be absolute or qualified, how they will be drafted. whether they will be used and how they will be interpreted by the courts.

Will it be used? It has often been overlooked, but we have had in Northern Ireland a comprehensive Bill of Rights concerning religious discrimination, contained in Sections 5 and 8(6) of the Government of Ireland Act. The fact is that these have existed for over fifty years without being resorted to (for instance, alleged acts of housing discrimination could easily have been tested in court as could the validity of endowing Church schools or R.I. in State Schools). The answer may be that those who complained were not anxious to have their claims legally examined or that they found it difficult to do so by reason of lack of means or evidence.

In either case, we would argue that the precise nature of a Bill of Rights - its comprehensive coverage of issues - combined with the availability of judicial remedies or legal aid should ensure that public pressure is put on those complaining to seek recourse to the law. The dramatic nature of a Bill of Rights would give this incentive.

The Drafting of a Bill of Rights. The extent of the Rights listed is a crucial matter. We believe it is important that they be more than mere standards by which to judge executive and legislative action: yet if the Rights are expressed in absolute terms, we realise they considerably restrict the powers of Government.

The restriction of over wide legislative and executive action in these matters is an important safeguard.

A Bill of Rights also can expose not only maladministration or abuse of legislative powers hut also weak and contrived allegations of discrimination by demonstrating them to be unfounded. In this sense a Bill of Rights would be a good complement to the existing machinery.

Availability of Review and Enforcement. We would propose legal aid to be made available to suitable applicants. This would be decided by the normal process the Legal Aid Committee.

Enforcement would be by the normal judicial remedies of injunction. mandamus and declaratory judgment though sonic procedural amendments might be necessary here. It would not be necessary to set up a new Court for judicial review but more desirable to rely on the existing Supreme Court of Northern Ireland with direct appeal to the House of Lords.


In addition to the guarantees contained in the Declarations of Equal Employment Opportunity by public bodies and in the non-discrimination Clauses in Government Contracts, other measures would he initialed to ensure the minority satisfactory guarantees of fair treatment. In this we believe it is not a matter of securing fair treatment for the minority but of making certain that the minority can see that that is what they are in fact getting.

PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT GENERALLY. While the local Government Appointments Commission and the Civil Service Commission are, we believe. satisfactory safeguards against any possible discrimination in public employment, generally THERE MIGHT STILL BE SOME MERIT IN GIVING THE MINISTRY OF COMMUNITY RELATIONS A SUPERVISORY ROLE IN MINOR APPOINTMENTS. THE OBJFECT AGAIN WOULD BE TO REVIEW THE GENERAL BALANCE OF SUCH APPOINTMENTS.

In both of the above, however, we feel it is vital that there be no attempt to regulate by numerical quota of Roman Catholics to Protestants.

There can be no substitute for merit and experience as considerations for employment in public office and that it would be invidious to have any hard and fast rule based on religious considerations. Any attempt to secure a fixed numerical balance would only serve to accentuate community divisions.


10. Relations with Southern Ireland

Relationship with Southern Ireland. In our opinion the task of securing a stable and lasting political settlement in Northern Ireland can be made significantly easier by the co-operation of the Government and people of Southern Ireland. To give any system that may prove acceptable to the majority of Unionist and Nationalist minded people in Northern Ireland a good chance of success will require several major contributions from the South.

  • The first contribution which must be made is the acceptance by the South of the right of the people of the North to self-determination. The obvious advantages - of calming the fears of the Northern majority and of isolating those who believe in physical force - would be enormous. In reality this means asking Southern Politicians to translate their verbal commitments to the idea that force will not be allowed to bring about a United Ireland into political and constitutional action.
  • The second contribution must be a greater commitment of the Southern Government to co-operate in ending terrorism here. We propose that several basic steps be taken immediately. FIRSTLY INTER-GOVERNMENT DISCUSSIONS SHOULD BE UNDERTAKEN CONCERNING POSSIBLE MEASURES. SECONDLY THE POSITION ABOUT THE RETURN OF CRIMINALS MUST BE REVIEWED. So long as extradition agreements exclude offences of a political character, this will be used to justify the non-return of many of those responsible for the murder of innocent citizens. Either the extradition treaty should be re-negotiated or the British Isles made a Common Law enforcement area. The latter would be preferable. A warrant issued in Belfast would be executed in Dublin in the same way as it would be in Sheffield.



See also:
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). (1972) 'Towards the Future: A Unionist Blueprint', [Summary Leaflet]. Belfast: Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).


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