'Systems of Government' by Sidney Elliott and W.D. Flackes - from Northern Ireland: A Political Directory (1999)
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The following chapter has been contributed by the authors, Sidney Elliott and W. D. Flackes , with the permission of the publishers, The Blackstaff Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
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SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT
From a stable but contested political system early in 1968, Northern Ireland went through a period of civil disorder, a change of regime in 1972 and the collapse of the new system of government two years later. The absence of cross-community support for either political integration within the UK or a united Ireland meant that the focus returned to finding an acceptable form of devolved government with an Irish dimension. Successive attempts proved abortive, until the Belfast Agreement of April 1998. The current attempt has come to the verge of devolution despite problems over decommissioning.
A DEVOLVED PARLIAMENT 1921-72
Some British ministers and constitutional lawyers regarded the old Stormont system as nearer to dominion status than to simple devolution. Under a convention established in 1922, it was not possible for an MP at Westminster to raise any issue within the direct responsibility of a Stormont minister. Thus, whilst the 1920 Act declared that the power of Westminster in NI was not diminished in any way by local self-government, the reality was somewhat different. Westminster ministers considered their responsibilities in relation to NI to be limited to issues such as foreign trade, defence, major taxation, customs and excise, and the High Court. The Home Secretary had Cabinet responsibility for NI affairs, and he had a few officials engaged part-time in dealing with them, but until the civil rights movement developed, few Home Secretaries got beyond rare and brief token trips to NI. So at the Westminster Parliament it required considerable ingenuity for an NI MP to find a topic on which he could put a question to a minister. The NI Government, normally comprising the PM and seven or eight full Cabinet ministers and a few junior ministers, controlled most domestic affairs, and internal law and order.
Up to the late 1960s, relations between London and Belfast were generally amicable. After 1945, Whitehall allowed NI to give more generous financial inducements to new industry than applied in GB, and finances generally were adjusted to NI’S advantage. Some local taxes, such as motor duty, entertainment tax and death duties, often differed from those in GB. Although NI had been required by the 1920 Act to make an annual ‘imperial contribution’ to meet items of national expenditure such as defence, foreign representation and the national debt, in the face of the high costs of social services it was converted from a first charge on revenue to a residual payment. NI had contributed about £460 million by way of ‘imperial contribution’ when it was finally abolished in 1973. The principle of equality of basic social services throughout the UK implied that there could be no variation in major taxes, and NI never exercised its limited power to reduce income tax. The general pattern of the Stormont Budget was settled in discussions between the Finance Minister and Treasury officials in London, and there was a joint Exchequer Board to consider any disputed matters. In matters such as social legislation, including divorce, NI very often went its own way.
But the continuing split in the NI community was underlined by the impact of the civil rights movement. The long-entrenched Stormont system came under severe pressure, both from anti-Unionists and from Westminster, and increasing violence soon made it a world issue as well. The NI Government did make changes to meet some of the criticism (see Cameron Commission and Reforms), but the serious violence in the summer of 1969 and the increasing alienation of the parliamentary opposition put large question marks over the very existence of Stormont. The need for army support for the police brought a real change in the relationship between Stormont and Whitehall. An army commander took charge of anti-terrorist operations (see Security System section, p. 649), and a new post of British Government representative was established so that Westminster would have its own watchdog official at Stormont. (His office was next door to that of the NI Prime Minister.) The failure of internment without trial to halt the PIRA campaign, and the shooting dead by the army of thirteen civilians in Derry (see Bloody Sunday) persuaded the Heath Government that all security and law-and-order powers should be transferred to Westminster. Three NI premiers - O’Neill, Chichester-Clark and Faulkner - had tried to restore stability, but in March 1972 the Conservative Government suspended the NI Parliament. It was an act that pleased anti-Unionists, but horrified even the most moderate of Unionists.
For the first time in fifty-one years, NI was now ruled wholly from London (see Direct Rule, pp. 609 - 10). It got its own Secretary of State, similar to Scotland and Wales, and the first holder of the new office was William Whitelaw, a senior Conservative politician, who was assisted by a small team of junior ministers. NI was governed under a Temporary Provisions Act, and NI legislation was brought forward by way of Orders in Council, which could not be amended on the floor of the Commons. In a bid to make direct rule more palatable, Whitelaw set up a locally recruited Advisory Commission, but Unionists boycotted it. Brian Faulkner (later Lord Faulkner), NI’S last PM, who with his colleagues had resigned rather than accept the loss of law-and-order powers, said he was against NI being treated ‘like a coconut colony’. The members of the last Stormont Cabinet under the 1920 Act were: Home Affairs, Brian Faulkner and John Taylor (Minister of State); Finance, Herbert Kirk; Health and Social Services, William Fitzsimmons; Development, Roy Bradford; Education, William Long; Agriculture, Harry West; Commerce, Robin Bailie; leader of the Commons, Nat Minford; leader of the Senate, John Andrews; Community Relations, David Blealdey (March - September 1971) and Basil McIvor (September 1971 - March 1972). Outside the Cabinet were John Brooke (later Lord Brookeborough), Minister of State in Finance, and Gerard B. Newe, Minister of State in the PM’s department.
POWER-SHARING EXECUTIVE AND ASSEMBLY
The new coalition took office on 1 January 1974 after being sworn in by the new Secretary of State, Francis Pym. Its members were: Chief Executive, Brian Faulkner (Unionist); deputy Chief Executive, Gerry Fitt (SDLP); Legal Minister and head of the Office of Law Reform, Oliver Napier (Alliance); Minister of Information, John L. Baxter (Unionist); Minister of Environment, Roy Bradford (Unionist); Minister of Housing, Local Government and Planning, Austin Currie (sDLP); Minister of Health and Social Services, Paddy Devlin (SDLP); Minister of Commerce, John Hume (SDLP); Minister of Finance, Herbert Kirk (Unionist); Minister of Education, Basil McIvor (Unionist); Minister of Agriculture, Leslie Morrell (Unionist). Ministers outside the Executive were: Community Relations, Ivan Cooper (SDLP); Manpower Services, Robert Cooper (Alliance); Planning and Co-ordination, Eddie McGrady (sDLP); Chief Whip, Robert Lloyd Hall-Thompson (Unionist).
The new administration rapidly ran into trouble. Whilst it had a majority in the Assembly, it faced violent opposition from loyalists opposed to power-sharing, and at one sitting demonstrating loyalists were ejected from the Chamber by the police. At the same time Brian Faulkner was defeated in the Unionist Council, the thousand-strong main governing body of his party, when he tried to get endorsement of the Sunningdale Agreement. Then in February 1974 a Westminster general election showed a majority for candidates of the three anti-power-sharing Unionist groups united within the UUUC, which won eleven of the twelve seats at Westminster. Finally, a loyalist strike, aimed against power-sharing and a Council of Ireland, led to the resignation in May of the Unionist members of the Executive, and the collapse of the administration.
The Labour Government moved quickly to try to break the political deadlock and to replace the now-defunct Assembly. In July 1974 it announced that local political parties were to be given the opportunity to produce a viable constitution. For this purpose a seventy-eight-member Constitutional Convention was elected in 1975, but the project finally failed in 1976. In the aftermath of the Convention, the Government sought to widen consultation outside and inside Parliament on NI legislation. A new NI Committee of MPS was set up to allow for general debates on local policy, for example on the economy, housing, agriculture and so on. And copies of Orders were shown in advance to local parties to enable them to put forward their views. The Labour Government (after James Callaghan became PM in 1976) accepted that there was a case for more than twelve NI MPS at Westminster - a long-standing claim of Unionists. The idea of extra representation was endorsed by the Speaker’s conference in 1978.
After the failure of the Convention, the British Government did not rush into any new initiative. But in November 1977 Roy Mason, as Secretary of State, put forward a tentative plan for discussion by the parties. The plan was discussed by the Secretary of State and representatives of the parties at the end of 1977 and beginning of 1978, but the initial exchanges did not suggest any agreement. At the same time the Conservative opposition was urging that the first priority should be given to local government reform - a course frequently urged by many Unionists. But the SDLP made it clear that it feared that a reform of councils would lead to Unionist domination, and remarks in Parliament by the Secretary of State indicated that he supported this view.
With the resumption of direct rule after the collapse of the Convention, the aim was to harmonise NI policy and legislation with that of the rest of the UK, and some of the departments established for the convenience of the Executive were dropped and others were merged. The work of the Department of Community Relations was taken over by the Department of Education, and the departments of Environment, and Housing, Planning and Local Government were merged into a single Environment Department. By 1976 the following departments were in existence: Agriculture, Commerce, Environment, Education, Finance, Health and Social Services, Manpower Services, and Civil Service.
With the election of the Conservative Government in May 1979, it appeared at first as if its manifesto commitment to a regional council or councils for NI would be introduced. However, after the death of Airey Neave (with whom the policy was identified) by means of an INLA bomb attached to his car in the House of Commons car park, the policy changed. A twin-track policy was developed amid increasing external pressure from the us. First, the new Secretary of State, Humphrey Atkins, sought to establish whether a basis existed for devolution. After the publication of a White Paper, Proposals for Further Discussion, he called the parties to a Constitutional Conference. But by November 1980 there was still no agreement on the formation of an executive. Although in July 1981 Atkins proposed to create an advisory council of MPS, MEPS and other elected representatives, the proposal was lost in the communal tension of the H-Block hunger strike. The second track had begun in December 1980 with a unique, high-level meeting of British and Irish ministers in Dublin. In a serious effort to improve UK - Republic relations a series of joint studies was instigated in January 1981 on security, mutual understanding, citizens’ rights, economic co-operation and possible new institutional structures.
In 1981 an Anglo-Irish Intergovermnental Council was created as a forum for discussion, and provision was made for a parliamentary tier at some stage. Whilst relations did deteriorate during the Falklands crisis, the institution for mutual contact had been established.
The scheme that eventually emerged in early 1982 was based, as in 1973, on a seventy-eight-seat Assembly elected by PR in the twelve Westminster constituencies. (If the plan for seventeen NI seats had been approved by Parliament at that time, the Assembly would probably have had eighty-five seats - five in each constituency.) The Devolution Bill provided that the Assembly could apply to Westminster for devolved powers if 70 per cent, or fifty-five, members backed the proposals. This weighted majority was intended to guard against Unionists only being in a position to apply. The Bill also provided that the Assembly could discuss local legislation and set up scrutiny committees for each of the six Stormont departments, and an amendment allowed for a non-statutory security committee. Assembly members would get a salary of £8,700, and committee chairmen an extra £2,900. Members of the Assembly could join a parliamentary tier of the AIIC as individuals.
Predictably, the reaction of the parties was mixed. Both the UUP and DUP rejected the weighted majority and ‘cross-community support’ provisions as a revival of the 1973 ‘power-sharing’, although the DUP was attracted more than the UUP to the initial scrutiny powers. To Affiance the scheme was a last chance for NI to solve its own problems. The SDLP regarded the scheme as ‘unworkable’ and an ‘expensive charade’ (views echoed by the Haughey Government in the Republic). Sinn Féin, contesting a Stormont election for the first time, sought to displace the SDLP as the main voice of nationalists and win political support for its ‘Brits out’ approach. The Secretary of State had to face a filibuster in Parliament from about twenty right-wing Conservative MPs, some of whom were opposed to him for other political reasons and argued that the 1979 Conservative manifesto should be implemented since there was no prospect of agreement on devolution (see Conservative Party, British), and some of whom were frankly integrationist. But the measure was put through without difficulty after a guillotine motion (unusual for a constitutional Bill) had been implemented, and with general support from the opposition parties. Labour’s attempt to make the scheme more acceptable to the SDLP led to an amendment to provide that both Lords and Commons would be able to pronounce on cross-community support’. The change did not, however, persuade the SDLP that there was any real Irish dimension.
Thus, the stage was set for the election on 20 October 1982. With both the SDLP and SF fighting on an abstentionist platform, although differing on the issue of violence, the Government’s hopes for the Assembly were distinctly limited. The SDLP won fourteen seats (three down on the Convention and five fewer than in the 1973 Assembly) and SF a surprising five seats, so a total of fifty-nine members attended the opening session of the Assembly. The UUP had twenty-six members, the DUP twenty-one, and Alliance ten; there were two other Unionists, one of whom, James Kilfedder MP, was elected Speaker. The Secretary of State accepted an early invitation to address the Assembly, and junior ministers appeared at committees. But they were not responsible to the Assembly and their appearances took on the form of a public relations exercise. The absence of SDLP members made it impossible to achieve the cross-community support necessary for devolution. Ministers continued to grant the SDLP access despite its abstention; even SF had access but on a narrower, ‘constituency interests’ basis only. Indeed, when SDLP members were engaged in their alternative New Ireland Forum strategy, it was clearly demonstrated that neither they nor surrogates would engage the Assembly in discussions. The main work of the Assembly was, therefore, the scrutiny of government departments and provision of advice on draft legislation. The Assembly did not have power, which remained with the Secretary of State and his ministers, but influence, which was more difficult to evaluate.
The work of the Assembly fell into three periods. The first lasted from November 1982 to May 1984, during which the absence of the SDLP and the boycott by the UUP over the allocation of chairmanships (until February 1983) and over security policy after the Darkley massacre in November 1983 (until May 1984) gave the Assembly an uncertain future. In their absence, the most committed parties, the DUP and Alliance, worked the system as best they could.
The second, and most fruitful, phase extended from May 1984 to November 1985 and the signing of the AIA. It was marked by the full operation of the committee system and the issue of three reports from the Devolution Committee. But in 1985, especially under the new Secretary of State, Douglas Hurd, it was clear that Government expectations from the Assembly were low and, instead, a UK - Republic deal was pursued, based on the ‘fourth option’ of the New Ireland Forum report of 1984.
The third phase was from 15 November 1985 until the Assembly’s dissolution on 23 June 1986, and was one of protest against the AlA (see Anglo-Irish Agreement, below). The response outside NI to what was represented as the settlement, in the AIA, of a historic difference between the UK and the Republic was a general, if not effusive, welcome. Inside NI, nationalists gave the AIA an immediate welcome which grew in strength as they witnessed Unionist discomfiture at the hands of a former political friend in the Conservative Party. Unionist rage at the role given to the Republic in the internal affairs of part of the UK crossed all classes and shades of political opinion. It was directed into protests at Belfast City Hall and at Maryfleld, into fifteen simultaneous by-elections when Unionist MPs resigned their seats, into the boycott of district council business, and other forms of showing the withdrawal of the Unionist consent from the new form of government which was portrayed as ‘joint rule’. The existence of the NI Assembly as a representative body resulted in its conversion into a platform for protest. The scrutiny function of the six committees was suspended, the Devolution Committee was wound up, and a new Committee on the Government of NI was set up to examine the effects of the ALA on the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, 1973, and the Northern Ireland Assembly Act, 1982. As a result the Alliance members withdrew, leaving forty-nine members attending; the NIO withdrew committee staff and cut off access to persons and papers in the departments. The Committee on the Government of NI still issued three reports, but the fate of the Assembly had been sealed. On 23 June 1986, around the time when arrangements for fresh elections would normally have been announced, it was dissolved by the British Government; some of its protesting members were carried from the building in the early hours of the next morning by the police.
It is difficult to evaluate the earlier, constructive phases of the Assembly. It did enable members to exercise a representative function which had been absent since the end of the first Assembly in 1974. The Assembly held 221 plenary sessions - about 70 per year; the various lobbies showed an awareness that it could influence decisions, and 426 witnesses gave evidence to the committees. The scrutiny committees prepared 118 reports, containing 998 recommendations of which two-thirds were accepted. They also had an input into draft legislation for NI. The Assembly’s passing may have been welcomed by some, and to an extent it was inevitable, but its absence did not diminish the need to subject the direct - rule regime to a system of political and administrative accountability.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement
Since the first meeting of the conference in December 1985 it had met twenty-five times: eleven meetings were held in Belfast, nine in London and five in Dublin. There had been ten meetings in the first year, four in the second, ten in the third year, and a further two meetings in the review period. After each meeting of the conference, a brief communiqué was issued outlining the main areas discussed, but the sketchiness of the details given has been criticised. The Diplock courts, the administration of justice, the relationship of the security forces and the police with nationalists, flags and emblems, parades, the Irish language, fair employment and housing conditions were among the subjects discussed. In the third year, however, many of the events causing greatest concern were British - Irish issues, such as the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four cases, the Gibraltar SAS killings, and extradition cases. At the end of the year it was clear that despite the AIA and the conference machinery, ‘megaphone diplomacy’ between the UK and the Republic was all too evident. In the event, the review of the working of the conference, which was expected to be brief, was extended to March 1989.
A parliamentary tier, with twenty-five members drawn from Lords and Commons and twenty-five from Dail and Senate, was expected to hold its first meeting in June 1989, but that was postponed until 1990. Two seats were allocated to Unionist MPS and one to the SDLP, but Unionists refused to take part since they regarded the body as inseparable from the AIA process.
The AIA was reviewed and confirmed in 1989 but it had made no progress towards the commitment to devolution contained in Article 4(b). The Secretary of State, Peter Brooke, launched a bid for inter - party talks and devolution in January 1990. He was unable to report agreement before the summer, and the autumn revealed signs of positions unravelling. The critical question was when the Irish Government would enter talks. In March 1991 Dublin agreed that the Secretary of State could decide the timing. The aim was, first, a more broadly based structure than the AIA; second, discussions would focus on the relations within NI (Strand One), on relations between the people of the island of Ireland (Strand Two), and on relations between the governments of the UK and of the Republic of Ireland (Strand Three).
The talks between local parties began on 30 April 1991 and, despite the intervention of procedural issues raised in advance of Strands Two and Three, there were three weeks of talks before they were concluded by the Secretary of State on 3 July. Although the meetings did not resume in the autumn, the parties accepted the usefulness of the formula for talks. Early in 1992 the Prime Minister, John Major, brought the leaders together over the worsening security situation, and on 9 March a plenary session of the talks was held before the general election. After the general election the new Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew, resumed the talks on 29 April with a three-month gap in AIIC meetings.
Agreement on Strand One was not reached, but the parties moved to Strands Two and Three from 1 July. These were the first talks between Unionists and the Irish Government since the Sunningdale Conference in December 1973, but this time they were held at Stormont.
The Strand Two talks resumed on 2 September, but disagreement over the agenda and the low priority accorded to Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution led to the refusal of the DUP to attend the talks sessions in Dublin. The talks came to an impasse over the Republic’s constitutional claim to NI, and moved to discuss economic co-operation. Despite intensive talks in October, the calling of a general election in the Republic on 5 November effectively ended Strands Two and Three. The final meeting was held on 10 November and, with the AIIC meeting on 16 November, the talks process came to an end.
Most of 1993 elapsed without any new format for talks being agreed. Despite a series of bilateral talks between the parties and Jeremy Hanley, and then his successor Michael Ancram, they did not progress to round-table talks. The DUP refused to meet Ancram in the autumn, and at some stage in October PM Major decided to pursue a ‘peace process’ with Taoiseach Albert Reynolds rather than political talks with the main parties. This culminated in the Downing Street Declaration by the British and Irish governments of 15 December. Alliance and the SDLP supported it, the UUP gave it a conditional acceptance, but the DUP rejected it. Early in February 1994 a ‘focus and direction’ paper from Mayhew, containing plans for an NI Assembly, was sent first to Dublin - to the annoyance of Unionists, who also felt that planned institutional changes were being delayed to await a formal SF response to the Downing Street Declaration. SF temporised, and on 13 March PIRA offered a ceasefire in return for direct negotiations but on a different agenda from the declaration. SF eventually in July rejected the declaration. However, just over a month later the PIRA announced a ‘complete cessation of military operations’ from 31 August, while rejecting the declaration as a solution. Six weeks later, loyalist paramilitaries declared a ceasefire from 13 October. By 24 October John Major offered SF talks to begin before Christmas and the relaxation of some security measures, and proposed an NI Assembly and a referendum on the outcome of talks.
The prospect had opened of substantive, inclusive talks in 1995, but progress was slow, and the government insistence on ‘substantial progress’ on decommissioning illegal arms before entry into talks was dismissed by SF and the loyalist parties as a ‘delaying tactic’ or ‘unrealistic’. In January 1995, in an attempt to address unionist fears, the PM, John Major, said that the framework for an agreement reached by the two governments would not propose joint authority; Major added that any new arrangements would be negotiated by the parties and subject to referendum, giving the people of NI ‘a triple lock’ on their future. Nevertheless, in March, Unionists made it clear that they would not enter talks on the basis of a document (the Framework Documents) they described as a ‘nationalist agenda’. The first direct Government talks with SF for twenty - three years started at Stormont in May but were terminated a month later when Adams said decommissioning was ‘an unrealistic precondition’.
Government relations with nationalists continued to be deadlocked over decommissioning, and in November London - Dublin relations hit a low point when FF leader Bertie Ahern and the Taoiseach, John Bruton, both scapegoated Britain. Nevertheless, relations were soon restored, and a joint communiqué issued from Downing Street late that month agreed a twin-track process (whereby talks on decommissioning would take place alongside political talks) aiming at all-party talks to start by the end of February 1996 after intensive preparatory talks. The communiqué also announced that a three-member international body, chaired by former us Senator George Mitchell, would advise on arrangements to decommission paramilitary arms.
The Mitchell Commission report published in January 1996 proposed six principles of democracy and non-violence that all parties to negotiation should be required to adhere to. It did not propose decommissioning prior to negotiation but suggested ‘some decommissioning’ during the process of all-party negotiations. Rather than proceeding to negotiations, however, Major proposed elections, prompting nationalist protests of time-wasting. An Irish counter-proposal, of Dayton-style proximity talks, was under discussion when the PIRA ceasefire was ended by the Canary Wharf bomb on 9 February.
The end of the ceasefire threw the British and Irish governments together and opened the way to a formula involving proximity talks from 4 to 13 March, elections to an NI Forum on 30 May, and then negotiations from 10 June. Ministerial contact with SF was broken off until ‘an unequivocal ceasefire’ was restored. It was a cleverly constructed formula which postponed previous conditions on decommissioning and the Mitchell Principles until after negotiations began on 10 June. Negotiators were to be drawn from the Forum but not dependent on it.
The Forum election resulted in the return of thirty UUP twenty-four DUP, twenty-one SDLP, seventeen SF, seven Alliance, three UKUP, two PUP, two UDP, two NI Women’s Coalition, and two Labour candidates. SF delegates turned up for the opening of talks in June but were refused access because there was no PIRA ceasefire. Progress of the talks was slow, initially against a background of civil unrest over the Drumcree Orange parade, and by December all the signs were that little would be accomplished before the forthcoming UK general election. Meanwhile, efforts to restore the PIRA ceasefire continued but, in the absence of a date for SF’S entry into the talks, without success.
In May 1997, the Labour Party’s formation of a government with a majority of 179 and the appointment of Mo Mowlam as Secretary of State signalled change. PM Blair, visiting Belfast, emphasised the principle of consent and said his agenda was ‘not a united Ireland’. The following month, the British and Irish governments proposed a parallel process of talks and decommissioning along the lines of the Mitchell Commission report, and Blair set a time frame for substantive talks to begin on 15 September and produce a political settlement by May 1998. Unionists were critical both of the proposals and of recent UK government contacts with SF, but within a month the PIRA suddenly called a complete cessation of military operations’ from 20 July.
Since restoration of the ceasefire was by now the sole condition for SF entry into talks, party delegates took up office accommodation at Castle Buildings, Stormont, on 21 July and began meeting other delegations such as the SDLP, Labour, and the Women’s Coalition.
The loyalist parties were content with the Government proposals on decommissioning, but the UKUP and the DUP both withdrew from the talks and the Forum. David Trimble, leader of the main Unionist party, accused the Blair Government of ‘duplicity’ but said that the UUP would not walk out on talks.
After the summer break, SF signed the Mitchell Principles on 9 September to gain access to the talks beginning six days later. The UUP and the loyalist parties did not enter the talks until 17 September (the UUP having unsuccessfully sought the expulsion of SF), whilst the DUP and UKUP remained outside, criticising the UUP for breaching its electoral mandate.
In September the talks parties agreed to create two sub-committees, one on decommissioning and the other on confidence-building measures. When the chairmanship of the International Decommissioning Body was agreed by the two governments, the talks were ready to move to substantive issues in October. On 13 October PM Blair met the talks parties. His meeting with SF, behind closed doors, was the first official contact between SF and the British government since 1921.
There were tensions between the UDP and PUP which resulted in the dissolution of the CLMC, the body that had called the loyalist ceasefire. And though the Irish Independent revealed that a PIRA summit in Co. Donegal had backed the peace process, news soon broke of some splits from PIRA. Despite the threats to peace, the parties presented their proposals for Strands One and Two for consideration in plenary session in early November, and thereafter broke into bilateral discussions. It was clear that relations between the two governments were good and they were determined to drive the process forward, at times irrespective of process. Reform of the RUC, the EPA and parades legislation were all presented as part of the change agenda.
But this unidirectional policy began to threaten unionist participation in the talks. Several UUP MPs criticised the process, and David Ervine warned that the PUP might not return to the talks in January. These and other problems, and the failure of the talks participants to agree an agenda before Christmas, required exceptional measures. In early January Mo Mowlam visited the Maze to reassure inmates, and a few days later the British and Irish governments presented the parties with a Heads of Agreement document. This proposed balanced constitutional change, an NI Assembly, a new British - Irish agreement, an intergovernmental council representing assemblies and parliaments throughout the British Isles, a North - South ministerial council accountable to the NI Assembly and to the Dail, and suitable implementation bodies.
A further setback occurred when the UDP and, later, SF were briefly expelled from the talks because of the killings that followed the INLA murder of LVF leader Billy Wright. Nevertheless, intensive meetings between PM Blair and Taoiseach Ahern at the beginning of April enabled the talks chairman, George Mitchell, to present a crucial paper on 7 April. The parties then went into a final round of negotiations against the clock. Agreement was eventually reached some seventeen hours after the deadline, at around 5.00 pm on Good Friday, 10 April.
The Belfast Agreement, whose text was widely circulated in NI and beyond, set out new devolved democratic institutions for NI, proposed a North - South Ministerial Council to be established under a new British - Irish agreement, and a British - Irish Council involving the new assemblies for NI, Scotland and Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and the British and Irish parliaments. It also made extensive provision for the protection of human rights. Since the agreement envisaged a peaceful as well as a democratic society, arrangements were set out for decommissioning of illegal weapons to an international body, for reduced security, for a commission on policing, and for the accelerated release of prisoners. These proposals were to be effected in a related way over a period of two years. The resultant model was far removed from the Westminster model of government. It was best described as consociational in its internal arrangements but with some federal aspects in its UK dimensions, and some confederal aspects in its Irish dimensions. It required consensus between the main Unionist party, the UUP, and the main nationalist party, the SDLP, otherwise the extensive checks and balances could result in deadlock.
The agreement provided for a democratically elected NI Assembly, inclusive in membership, with executive and legislative powers and subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interests of all sides of the community. Its powers and links to Westminster were to be similar to those of the 1973 Assembly, but the principle of proportionality made it more inclusive and the checking mechanisms were more formal.
The Belfast Agreement was endorsed by 71.1 per cent of NI voters in a referendum held on 22 May. Elections to the 108-member Assembly were held on 25 June using the STV system. Some 75.5 per cent of votes cast were for candidates in favour of the agreement, and 80 seats were won by parties in favour and 28 against. The legislation to give effect to the Belfast Agreement was introduced to Parliament in July and became law as the Northern Ireland Act, 1998, after some 390 amendments, on 19 November.
The Assembly had its first meeting on 1 July and elected David Trimble (OUP) as First Minister and Seamus Mallon (SDLP) as deputy First Minister. The main problems the Assembly faced initially were the decommissioning of illegal weapons and the formation of a shadow executive. The Belfast Agreement said that arrangements for a North - South Ministerial Council and six North - South implementation bodies had to be in place by 31 October. The deadline was missed and agreement was only achieved on 18 December. The outline agreements on ten departments, and on the six implementation bodies and six areas for cooperation North - South were filled out in the final report of the First Minister and deputy First Minister, published on 15 February 1999. The report also made provision for a sixty-member Civic Forum. The passing of the report by the Assembly, by 77 votes to 29, cleared the way for the Secretary of State to accept the standing orders and initiate the mechanisms for the election of the Executive in advance of the proposed date for devolution of 10 March.
REVIEW OF DIRECT RULE
The circumstances in which Prior was appointed in September 1981 resulted in the NI posting being described as ‘internal exile’. However, it is doubtful if the posting has been different in kind, a point reinforced by examination of ministers’ careers before and after NI experience. Ministers are required to have ‘a safe pair of hands’, but the political hothouse atmosphere arising from the high news profile, two local television and radio stations, local newspapers and the penetration of RTE and the Dublin press, gives ministers a higher public profile than jobs at a comparable level elsewhere. In the circumstances talent might well be revealed.
An NIO appointment does require additional air travel, but the job is not especially demanding and does not necessarily require additional time away from home. Parliamentary questions have shown that ministers spend about one night in three in NI; team spirit has helped colleagues with individual requirements or to respond to exceptional needs arising from the political situation. Ministers also have had the statistical comfort that most would gain promotion. Some 32 were appointed after NI experience, 21 were promoted, whilst 12 remained at the same level. And 16 gained Cabinet experience after NI even though only three ministers spend about one night in three in NI; team spirit has helped colleagues with individual requirements or to respond to exceptional needs arising from the political situation. Minsiters also have had the statistical comfort that most would gain promotion. Some 32 were appointed after NI experience, 21 were promoted, whilst 12 remained at the same level. And 16 gained Cabinet experience after NI even though only three - Whitelaw, Prior and King - had previous Cabinet experience. The new Labour administration has so far shed one minister, Tony Worthington, to the back benches and promoted one, Paul Murphy, to Cabinet as SoS for Wales. Mo Mowlam’s performance as Secretary of State will enable her to command high office when she leaves NI.
Criticism and Change
NI GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS UNDER DIRECT RULE
The head of the NI civil service is responsible for the co-ordination of the work of the six NI departments and is supported by a central secretariat. The post carries the rank of Permanent Secretary with responsibilities as chief adviser to the Secretary of State on all transferred matters. Until his retirement in 1992, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield occupied the post. He was succeeded by Sir David Fell from the DED until his early retirement in November 1997. The current head of the NICS is John L. Semple, formerly of the Department of Finance and Personnel; since 1998 he was the Second Permanent Under Secretary of State at the NIO.
The NIO also is headed by a Permanent Secretary, Joseph Pilling, for its London and Belfast divisions, which both deal with political and constitutional affairs and security. The London division of the NIO provides liaison between NI departments and the Treasury’ and other Whitehall departments. The Belfast divisions of the NIO are mainly concerned with the administration of reserved and excepted matters, especially law and order. Among the Nb’s specific functions are criminal justice, including special powers, the prevention and detection of crime, police matters and traffic wardens, prisons and the treatment of offenders, firearms and explosives, electoral matters, political matters, constitutional matters, human rights, and international topics - including the European Community and the Intergovernmental Secretariat. Compensation for victims of crime, like compensation for loss or damage under emergency legislation, is now a matter for the Compensation Agency. Planned spending by the NIO in 1999 - 2000 was £990 million, an increase of 7 per cent over the previous year.
The NI departments are formally separate from the NIO, but under the Northern Ireland Act, 1974, and in the absence of devolution, they are subject to the direction and control of the Secretary of State and her ministers, who are responsible for the reserved and transferred matters described in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, 1973. The planned manpower for the NI departments in 1999-2000 was 23,210, and 4,902 in the NIO. A reduction of 3,000 staff was announced in April 1994 as part of the Next Steps programme.
Expenditure by NI departments has been fitted into the UK Public Expenditure Survey Cycle (PESO) since 1968 and PESO control procedures since 1972. The NI programme is in two sections: first, the NI departments administering matters transferred in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act, 1973; and second, the expenditure by UK departments, namely, NIO, M.o.D. and the Foreign Office, on excepted and reserved matters. The Secretary of State has overall responsibility for both sections of the programme. In this way NI public expenditure is integrated into the UK pattern and system of control.
Since the creation of the NIO as a separate department of state in 1972, NI has benefited from increased public expenditure. From 1972 to 1979, NI per capita public expenditure rose by 17 per cent compared to a rise of 2 per cent in Wales and a reduction of 8 per cent in Scotland. Despite the Conservative Government’s commitment to cut public expenditure, the NI programme continued to expand by 2 per cent until 1985. By 1987 - 8 the per capita public expenditure figures for the parts of the UK, standardising on England as 100, were Scotland 129, Wales 115, and NI 150. The relative position of NI increased to 158 in 1988 - 9 but began to fall thereafter and in 1995 - 6 was 137, Scotland 123, and Wales 116. For the period 1999-2000, planned public expenditure for NI was £9,500 million. From time to time the subvention from the Treasury becomes a political issue, and in 1991 - 2 it amounted to £2,540 million. Figures published in 1993 showed that, when the variable security costs were excluded, there was considerable consistency over the years since 1973 - 4. The average subvention was £1,555 million over nineteen years with the range marked by £1,826 million in 1978 - 9 and £1,318 million in 1989-90.
The six departments have been roughly the same since 1982.
Agriculture Development and improvement of agriculture, forestry and fishing industries; animal health, drainage schemes, the recreational use of water and forest. Extensive advisory services, agricultural research, education and training. Agricultural census and farm income data. Agent for MAFF in economic support for agriculture and implementation of EC Common Agricultural Policy. In 1999-2000 planned expenditure on agriculture was £304 million, the result of a below average increase, and was expected to fall further.
Economic Development Industrial development, employment and training of labour, and relations with commerce and industry generally. The IDB is responsible for the development of industry, for attracting new projects, and for the care and maintenance of existing industry, including trade promotion, marketing, and assistance to research and development projects. It provides funds for, and liaises with, the Local Enterprise Development Unit on the promotion of small businesses. The DED is responsible for industrial science and technology, the development of tourism, and mineral and energy development. It is also directly responsible for certain regulatory activities, such as the registration of companies, societies, credit unions and trade unions, and the supervision of industrial assurance and unit trusts. Several of its primary duties are effected through agencies. For example, the training function is carried out through the Training and Employment Agency and Enterprise Ulster; tourism is mainly encouraged through the NI Tourist Board, and industrial science through the Industrial Research and Technology Unit. Some of the DED’s other regulatory activities are performed through the Health and Safety Agency and the Consumer Council. It also has a role of mediation though the Labour Relations Agency, the Fair Employment Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission. Since March 1992 the department has also been responsible for the Office of the Electricity Regulator (OFFER [NI]). In 1999-2000 planned expenditure was £481 million, a reduction of £3 million (0.6 per cent), and further reductions in selective financial assistance to industry were expected.
Education Development of primary, secondary and further education, community, adult and special education. The department has responsibility for the Schools Inspectorate, teachers’ salaries and superannuation, the Youth Service, the Sports Council, the Arts Council, the Museum Service and the improvement of community relations. The main education service is administered for the department by five education and library boards; the Catholic maintained sector is administered by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. The examinations function is exercised by the NI Schools Examinations and Curriculum Council. In 1999 - 2000 the planned expenditure for the department was £1,530 million, a rise of 6.3 per cent; expenditure was expected to rise further to reduce class sizes and improve standards.
Environment Planning and development; housing and landscaping; water and sewerage; construction and maintenance of roads and bridges; ordnance survey and land registry; transport and traffic, including safety and licensing; fire protection; pollution control; amenity lands and parks; government records; regional rate collection; the Development Officer service. Many services are provided through a series of eleven agencies, for example the environment service, the planning service, the roads service, and the water service (now threatened by privatisation). A number of agencies are responsible for other services. Housing is in the hands of the Housing Executive, transport with a holding company, the rates are collected by the Rate Collection Agency, vehicles and drivers are tested by the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency, and the Ordnance Survey is now an agency. Some agencies are concerned with urban development in Belfast and Derry, and the Laganside Corporation is responsible for a major riverside development in Belfast. There are also links to the twenty-six district councils, which are responsible for minor environmental services including street cleaning, refuse disposal, environmental health, cemeteries, consumer protection, recreational services, dog control and entertainment licensing. In 1999-2000 planned spending by the DOE was £195 million, a fall of 1.9 per cent.
Finance and Personnel Control of spending by NI departments, liaison with the Treasury and NIO on financial matters; economic and social planning and research; Digest of Statistics; Ulster Savings; borrowing; loan advances; charities. The formulation and co-ordination of policy for personnel management in the civil service, central management services and computer services. The department also has functions in valuation and lands agency. It provides a legislative counsel service and monitors relations with the EC. In 1999-2000 the planned expenditure was £65 million.
Health and Social Services The department is responsible for three main programmes: health and social services, social security, and child support. The main functions of the Health and Personal Social Services programme are executed through four health and social services boards. The Central Services Agency administers payments in respect of the Family Health Service. In 1999-2000 planned spending in this section was £1,849 million. Social Security expenditure planned for 1999-2000 was £3.4 billion; this spending is administered through the Social Security Agency at a cost of £150 million. The Child Support Agency was set up in April 1993 under the Child Support (NI) Order, 1991. The department also has a function in social legislation on betting, gaming and lotteries, liquor licensing, clubs registration, shops and hare coursing. It is responsible for regulatory services such as the Registrar - General, the census etc.
THE SYSTEM BASED ON THE BELFAST AGREEMENT
The Assembly will operate with a Chair and deputy Chair elected on a cross-community basis using either parallel consent or a weighted majority of 60 per cent of members present and voting. There will be a committee for each of the main executive functions. Membership of the committees will be in broad proportion to party strengths in the Assembly; the chairs and deputy chairs will be allocated proportionately using the d’Hondt system.
The committees will have a scrutiny, policy development, and consultation role and a role in the initiation of legislation. They will have the power to send for persons and papers, to initiate enquiries and make reports, to consider and advise on matters suggested by the minister, to consider and advise on departmental budgets and spending plans, to take the committee stage of relevant primary legislation, and to approve relevant secondary legislation. Standing committees can also be established, and it is proposed that one should determine conformity with equality, ECHR and Bill of Rights requirements where a petition of concern has been triggered (see below).
A number of safeguards have been built into the operation of the institutions. The principle of proportionality is applied to the allocation of committee chairs and committee membership. The ECHR and an NI Bill of Rights will prevent infringement by public bodies. Key decisions - including election of the Chair of the Assembly, First Minister and deputy First Minister, standing orders and budget allocations - must be taken on a cross-community basis using either parallel consent or a weighted majority. In other cases a petition of concern from thirty members can trigger the same procedure.
Initially, the Assembly will not have legislative or executive power until it resolves its standing orders, makes preparations for the British - Irish Council, the North - South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies. In principle this is similar to 1973 when no power was devolved until a Council of Ireland was agreed at Sunningdale.
The executive authority of the Assembly is discharged by a First Minister and deputy First Minister, elected jointly by the Assembly on a cross-community basis. There will be up to ten ministers with departmental responsibilities, allocated using the d’Hondt system on the basis of the seats won in the Assembly. Parties may change a nominee subsequently or decline to serve as a minister. In this latter case the d’Hondt method would require the positions to go to the parties with the next-highest averages.
The twelve ministers constitute an Executive committee which provides a forum to prioritise policies and programmes, resolve differences, and arrive at common positions on external relations. The policies and programmes are subject to scrutiny by the Assembly committees, and to approval on a cross-community basis. The two First Ministers coordinate the work of the Executive and the response to external relationships.
Each department will be headed by a minister with full executive authority who is committed to liaise regularly with the committee. All ministers have to affirm a seven-point Pledge of Office, including a code of conduct and the principles set out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Assembly will maintain a register of members’ interests. An individual can be removed by the Assembly following a decision taken on a cross-community basis.
In its relations with other institutions, the Assembly is represented by the First Mmister and deputy First Minister and must ensure cross - community involvement. Arrangements have to be made for an input by NI ministers into UK policy making, including EU issues.
The role of Secretary of State will not disappear. He or she remains responsible for non-devolved matters, represents NI interests in the Cabinet, approves any Assembly legislation on reserved matters to be laid at Westminster, and attends the Assembly by invitation. Westminster, including the NI Grand Committee, scrutinises the role of the Secretary of State. It ensures UK international obligations are met in NI, and its power to legislate for NI remains undiminished.
It is also proposed to establish a civic forum with representatives from business, trade unions, voluntary and other sectors to act as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural issues. The two chief Ministers will provide administrative support.
Provision is made for the review of arrangements after a period, especially procedures and electoral arrangements, in the interests of efficiency and fairness.
THE NEW DEPARTMENTAL FUNCTIONS
Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister Economic policy unit; equality; other central functions (within the secretariat of the Executive committee); community relations; information services; policy innovation unit; liaison with the Secretary of State (reserved and excepted matters); European affairs/international/Washington bureau; liaison with the North - South Ministerial Council, with the British - Irish Council, with the Civic Forum, and with the IFI; Executive committee secretariat; legislation progress unit; Office of the Legislative Counsel; public appointments policy; visits; honours; freedom of information; victims; Nolan standards; public service; machinery of government; emergency planning; women’s issues; cross-departmental co-ordination; Assembly Ombudsman (liaison and appointment).
The role of the office is to support the two First Ministers and the Executive committee as a whole, in their strategic role and responsibilities for formulation, co-ordination and management of policies.
It is also to assist the First Minister and deputy First Minister, together with the responsible minister and the Secretary of State, in negotiating with HM Treasury on the NI block grant and EU and IFI funding; determining within the Executive committee the administration’s strategic goals, inputting them into the programme and allocating financial resources (in conjunction with Finance and Personnel); arbitrating and determining competing funding demands; co-ordination of the Executive’s economic policies and the effectiveness of public spending in achieving economic goals; co-ordination of EU policy and reviewing progress and effectiveness of EU and IFI funds; overseeing the development of joint financing of public spending, including the PFI; monitoring the financial implications of legislation passed in the NI Assembly, Westminster and the EU.
This office will be responsible for central initiatives (like the Performance and Innovation Unit in the Cabinet Office); improving the effectiveness of management within government on financial management information and regulatory policies, by developing performance and co-ordinating mechanisms; and promoting the organisational and cultural changes necessary to deliver the administration’s strategic agenda; it will also have responsibility for the Public Service Office and the Continuous Improvement Programme and for evaluating the programmes, policies and procedures of departments, boards and agencies (in association with the Department of Finance and Personnel).
Agriculture and Rural Development Food, farming and environmental policy; agrifood development; science; veterinary; rural development; forestry; sea fisheries.
Environment Planning control; environment and heritage; protection of the countryside; waste management; pollution control; wildlife protection; local government; sustainable development; mineral resources (planning aspects); road safety; Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency; driver and vehicle licensing agency; transport licensing and enforcement.
Regional Development Transport planning; public transport, buses, and NI Transport Holding Company; roads service; rail; ports and airports; energy (strategic and development); water; strategic planning.
Social Development Voluntary Activity Unit; housing policy; NI Housing Executive; urban renewal; community sector; Laganside Corporation; Rent Assessment Panel; NI Building Regulations Advisory Committee; Housing Benefit review boards; Social Security Agency; Child Support Agency; Lands Division; Independent Tribunal Service; Central Adjudication Services; Office of Social Fund Commissioner; social legislation.
Education Schools funding and administration; special education; school effectiveness; school planning and provision; Schools Inspectorate; pre-school education; youth service; teachers (numbers, remuneration etc.); Education and Library Board appointments.
Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment Higher education; further education; vocational training (ACE, CWP and New Deal); employment services; employment law and labour relations; teacher training and teacher education; student support and postgraduate awards; training grants (Executive Development, Premier and Priority Skills Programmes); Office of the Industrial and the Fair Employment Tribunals.
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Economic development policy; industry (IDB and LEDU); research and development (IRTU); tourism; Health and Safety Executive; Employment Medical Advisory Service; company regulation; consumer affairs; energy regulation; Ofreg; minerals and petroleum unit (including geological survey; NICO; company training grants schemes (company development programme and explorers).
Culture, Arts and Leisure Arts and culture; sport and leisure; libraries and museums; Armagh Planetarium; visitor amenities and services; Ulster Historical Foundation; inland waterways; inland fisheries; Ordnance Survey; Public Record Office; language policy; National Lottery matters; millennium events and events companies.
Health, Social Services and Public Policy Health; social services; public health and safety; health promotion; Fire Authority.
Finance and Personnel Finance; personnel; information technology and common services; accommodation; Rate Collection Agency and VLA; legal services; land registry of NI; NI Statistics and Research Agency; construction service; NI Construction Industry Advisory Council; NI Building Regulations Advisory Council; business development service; Government Purchasing Agency; Office of Law Reform.
The legislation for the ten departments was contained in the Departments (NI) Order made on 10 February 1999 and effective from devolution day. The movement of functions was included in the Transfer of Functions Order under the Mmistries Act (NI), 1944, and effective from devolution day.
IMPLEMENTATION BODIES AND AREAS FOR NORTH-SOUTH CO-OPERATION
*Inland waterways Food safety
Trade and business development.
*Special EU programmes - SPPR, INTERREG, Leader 2 and successors Language (Irish and Ulster Scots)
*Aquaculture and marine matters.
* Proposed in the Belfast Agreement (Annex to Strand Two)
The areas for North - South co-operation are aspects of the following:
*Transport Strategic planning and development of cross-border cooperation in transport: primarily in road and rail but also issues in port and airport sectors; road and rail safety.
*Agriculture Animal and plant health policy and research, rural development, discussion of EU Common Agricultural Policy issues.
*Education Education for children with special needs, educational underachievement, teacher qualifications, school, youth and teacher exchanges.
*Health Accident and emergency planning, co-operation on high-technology equipment, cancer research and health promotion.
*Environment Research into environmental protection, water quality, and waste management in a cross - border context.
*Tourism Establishment of a publicly owned limited company to subsume the existing Overseas Tourism Marketing Initiative. The company’s articles of association and memoranda establishing its strategic objectives would be agreed by the two administrations. The board of the new company would be appointed by the two administrations after consultation with their respective tourist industry interests. The operations of the company would be monitored by the existing tourist boards and NI ministers meeting in the North - South Ministerial Council. Its functions would include: planning and delivering international tourism marketing programmes in partnership with the industry North and South; publication and dissemination in overseas markets of information on the island of Ireland and its cultures and identities; market research in the international field; co-operation with other bodies; surveys and collection of relevant statistics and information.
NORTH-SOUTH MINISTERIAL COUNCIL
These changes will produce a revolution in the way NI is governed. The Assembly will produce a level of local accountability missing for twenty-seven years. It will require the civil service to adjust to local political masters. It will involve change in the administrative structure and the creation of new departments. It may result in change in the structure of district councils. The basing of the administration on consensus is a radical departure.
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