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'A commentary on the Programme of Reforms for Northern Ireland' by New Ulster Movement (August 1971)

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Text: New Ulster Movement ... Page Compiled Brendan Lynn

The following pamphlet was published by the New Ulster Movement in August(?) 1971. The views expressed in this pamphlet 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.

A commentary on the

Programme of

Reforms for

Northern Ireland




August(?) 1971




From its inception the province of Northern Ireland has had to cope with an intractible state of conflict within its community - sometimes open and bloody, sometimes hidden and passive. There were those who held that the constitutional link with Great Britain should be maintained at all costs. Equally, there were those, who constituted a large minority, who held that the link should be broken and the province absorbed in to a United Ireland.

Successive Unionist Governments, voted into power by substantial and clear cut majorities, have chosen, during the period 1921-1968, to rely on highly questionable techniques and stratagems in order to maintain the union and their ascendency. These policies ranged from discrimination to the gerrymander and were strengthened by high unemployment, bad housing and a high emigration rate.

It is little wonder, therefore, that the Cameron Commission (Cameron report on Disturbances in Northern Ireland Cmd. 532, page 11, para 6.) summed up this situation in 1970 in the following words: "it is plain from what we have heard, read and observed that the train of events and incidents which began in Londonderry on 5th October 1968 has had as its background, on the one hand a widespread sense of political and social grievance for long unadmitted and therefore unredressed by successive Governments of Northern Ireland, and on the other sentiments of fear and apprehension sincerely and tenaciously felt and believed, of risks to the integrity and indeed continued existence of the state."

These words echo the comment of Professor Mansergh, written as long ago as 1936, i.e. only fifteen years after the creation of the province of Northern Ireland that "the Government of Northern Ireland has shown itself deficient in those very qualities which its independence should encourage. It has made no consistent attempt to break down the traditional hostility between the respective creeds; has not possessed either the wish or the courage to ignore the demands of the Orange extremists; it has not given that positive leadership which is so needed if a spirit of common citizenship is to be established. Admittedly, a Unionist Government Is in power; but Ministers would be well advised to remember that Unionist is the adjective and Government the noun." (N. Mansergh. The Government of Northern Ireland 1936. pages 238-9).


It was not necessary to be a professional sociologist to recognise in the mid 60’s that, in a community which had all the trappings of a modern industrial state including universal education and the free flow of ideas, grievances and social inequality would not be accepted indefinitely. Hence, in the mid to late ‘60’s two different movements emerged. The first, which received universal publicity on a grand scale, was the Civil Rights Movement with all the allied protest organisations and satellites which surrounded it. The supporters of the Civil Rights Movement determined that through the tactic of street demonstrations, mass assemblies and, in the beginning, non-violent protest, radical changes in tin’ system of government in Northern Ireland would be caused. Their action gained the sympathy of the world press and, in particular, public opinion in Great Britain. Nor was it necessary to be an expert in contemporary politics to know that against the current background of world revolution and world violence, street demonstrations in Northern Ireland would rapidly present an opportunity for riots and social disorder unique in the United Kingdom.

The second Movement, which received little publicity, had similar objectives to the early Civil Rights Movement, but was anxious to obtain those objectives by working within the normal democratic process. Its weakness was in its lack of cutting edge and coherence of organisation. Nonetheless, it is important to recognise that thousands of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, including a pressure group within the Unionist Party were sympathetic towards, and in many cases actively pressed for, radical changes in the policies and techniques of government, and the power structures which seemed to ensure a permanent Protestant and Orange ascendancy.

At the same time there was an interest developing among some United Kingdom M.P.'s at Westminster in the conduct of the Stormont Government and in the increasing claims of the minority for equality in Northern Ireland. The Labour Government under Mr. Harold Wilson, was eventually forced to recognise that Westminster had a responsibility in the Internal affairs of Northern Ireland.


It was against this pressure - mass demonstrations and street politics on the one hand, and the persistent pressure of individuals and groups of individuals working in Northern Ireland and at Westminster within the democratic process on the other - that the Northern Ireland Government announced a series of reforms on 22nd November, 1968. It promised that these would be carried nut "as rapidly as possible." A Commission would be appointed to replace the grotesquely sectarian Unionist City Corporation of Londonderry; methods would be found through which citizens could express their grievances; a review would be made of the Special Powers Act; the Company vote in Local Government would be abolished and Local Government itself would be reviewed. In addition, the Cameron Commission, referred to above, would be set up to examine the causes of "recent disturbances:’


This was the background against which the General Election of February 1969 was fought. In many ways this election provided a watershed - at least for the Unionist Party - although it is doubtful if the majority of citizens recognised this to be the case when they went to the polls. The Unionist Party fought the election on a manifesto which describes itself as "not simply a statement of policy"; but as "a declaration of principle." The manifesto asked people of Northern Ireland what kind of community they wanted and went on to state that "the Ulster Unionist Party believes in an Ulster in which the obligations and rights of all citizens will be fully recognised. It expects of all citizens that loyalty towards the State which is due when the institutions of that State have the expressed support of a clear majority. It seeks from every individual a proper sense of responsibility and whole hearted participation in the life of the State." It continued "The Party acknowledges and proclaims the right of all citizens to equal terms under the law, to full equality in the enjoyment of health, education and other social benefits and to the protection of authority against every kind of injustice." Subsequently, the manifesto committed the Unionist Party to "work to heal the divisions in our community which have so far prevented Northern Ireland from fulfilling its best hopes." The manifesto reiterated, on more than one occasion, that these were "principles" to which every Unionist candidate was committed and which would be binding upon any Unionist government elected.

On 29th April, 1969, in his valedictory speech, Prime Minister O’Neill re-emphasised this point when he said that the election had allowed him, with his "loyal colleagues, to proclaim a new declaration of principle which now binds every Unionist returned to Parliament. It speaks in clear terms of justice and equality; it commits the Party, in honour and conscience, not merely to do nothing to enlarge the divisions in our community, but to work positively to end them. You will be watching, as I Will be, to see to it that these pledges are honoured."


It is our belief that these concepts expressed and still express the majority view of the citizens of Northern Ireland. It is equally obvious, however, that they are rigidly opposed by a large, powerful and vociferous section of the Unionist Party. There are many ways of illustrating this, but reference to the Unionist Party publication "Northern Ireland - Fact and Falsehood; a frank look at the present and the past," gives a clear summary of the opposition to the change and reform to which the Unionist Party committed itself in the election of 1969. It emphatically denies that Unionism has kept itself in power by inflating the partition issue; by being basically sectarian; keeping alive religious divisions and prejudices; discriminating against Roman Catholics in jobs, housing, election franchise and gerrymandering. Indeed, in one of its concluding paragraphs this Unionist Party publication makes the startling claim that "above all, the Northern Ireland Government had made every effort as its founder father advised in 1921, to deal not only fairly but generously with the Roman Catholic minority in the Province."

A later publication by the Unionist Party entitled "Ulster the Facts" (September 1969), which was a best seller among the right wing Unionists is even more intransigent. Its untimely issue was criticised by Mr. Justice Scarman and is seen to be a tendentious piece of old fashioned Unionist propaganda which based all the tensions and conflict of our community on the existence of a massive I.R.A. plot despite the fact that the Advisory Committee on the Police in its report of October 1969, was unable to find any evidence of such a plot and records that "the I.R.A. were unprepared for such action last August." (para 26).

Thus within the Unionist Party generally and within the community at large, there was, and is, a conflict between those who are determined to get change and reform of a radical nature and those who are determined to resist change in order to maintain an outdated Orange ascendancy. The emergence of the Provisional I.R.A. wing of the Republican movement committed to the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government together with the use of violence as a means of changing society, introduced a further vicious complication into an already complex situation. The gunman, the rioter, the intimidator have openly exhibited their strength in both wings of the community throughout the last two and a half years.


Following the February 1969 General Election the bitter feud in the Unionist Party between those who were committed to reform and those who regarded reform as "appeasement" resulted in the removal of Prime Minister O’Neill and his replacement by Prime Minister Chichester-Clark. This may have been regarded as victory for the hardline, right wingers, but ironically it resulted in the emergence, under Chichester-Clark, of a Cabinet determined in its resolve to implement the promised reform programme. Undoubtedly, certain individual members of that Cabinet were prepared to work for the Reform Programme simply because they believed it to be right and morally justifiable. Equally, however, they had to recognise that the Sovereign Parliament of Westminster insisted on the carrying out of the Reform Programme and would not brook any major interference either in its timing or in its implementation. They had to recognise too that the electorate included thousands of people, who expected the Unionist Government to honour its election pledge and would cast their vote at the next election on the basis of the success or failure of the Unionist Government to implement those policies.

Thus the N.I. Government agreed with the British Government and has since been active in proceeding at legislative and executive levels towards the implementation of their electoral promises. For its actions it has been condemned and execrated over a wide spectrum of right wing Unionism, in many Unionist constituency associations and Orange

Lodges, and by the whole Paisley sector of the community. These citizens have one common interest; they accept Mr. Paisley’s ex-cathedra pronouncement that the reforms mean surrendering to Popery and Republicanism. For good measure Nationalists, Republicans, People’s Democracy and certain Civil Rights leaders have castigated the government for procrastination and have foolishly threatened to return to the streets if their demands are not immediately met. Whatever may be said about the circumstances leading to the Government’s agreement to extend British standards of democracy and equality of citizenship to Northern Ireland, it is foolish, irresponsible and a continuing threat to peace to refuse to acknowledge that the Government is now trying to implement the reforms. Equally, it is hypocritical to refuse to co-operate in the promotion of such reforms.


Two principles run through the Reform Programme. The first reiterates the constitutional position in the following terms:- "The U.K. Government re-affirms that nothing which has happened in recent weeks in Northern Ireland derogates from the clear pledges made by successive U.K. governments that Northern Ireland should not cease to be part of the U.K. without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland or from the provision of Section 1 of the Ireland Act 1949, that in no event would Northern Ireland or any part thereof cease to be part of the U.K. without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The Border is not an issue."

The second principle is the pivot on which the actual reforms turn, namely, "equality of citizenship," or the establishment of "normal standards of British democracy.’ The principal elements of the reform programme are as follows:-


For Parliamentary elections this was provided in the Electoral Law Act 1968 and for Local Government elections in the Electoral Law Act 1969. Votes at 18 years of age is also provided for in the Electoral Law Act 1969. It already applies to Parliamentary elections and will apply in the next local Government elections.


The U.K. Government has reaffirmed responsibility for the security of the province of Northern Ireland for as long as necessary. In particular, this concerns the defence of the border against armed aggression from outside the U.K., coupled with internal riot control at the request of the Civil authority.


The Report of the Advisory Committee on Police in Northern Ireland (October 1969) (Hunt Report) recommended a range of reforms most of which have been embodied in various decisions. These reforms turn on two principles. Firstly, that the police service should not be used, or appear to be used, as a political force, and secondly, that it normally should be unarmed, providing a non-sectarian service to the whole community. In particular, the following gave effect to these principles.

(a) The establishment of a civilianised and normally unarmed police force. Arms are available at central control points - as is the case in the rest of the U.K - but will not be carried on normal duty and will only be issued when conditions warrant their use. The arms available are the Webley .38 revolver and the Walther pistol, the former to be replaced as rapidly as possible with the latter. All sergeants and constables will be identifiable through the wearing of a number on their tunic collars (In practice everywhere from 1st March 1971).
(b) The setting up of a Police Authority under the Police Act (N.I.) 1970, consisting of 21 members, representatives of the community as a whole, to which the Chief Constable of the R.U.C. is accountable, It is the responsibility of this Authority to secure the maintenance of an adequate, efficient police force in Northern Ireland.
(c) A closer relationship between the R.U.C. and the British Police Force, including arrangements for mutual assistance in such matters as training facilities, the secondment of personnel, the temporary reinforcement of the R.U.C. in emergencies, similar liability to inspection, and equivalent representation on police bodies concerned with pay rates etc., (Police Act (N.I.) 1970.)
(d) The abolition of the Ulster Special Constabulary (‘B’ Specials) and the creation of two new non-sectarian forces to back up the R.U.C. and the British Army:
(1) A volunteer police reserve (R.U.C. Reserve) to help with routine police duties on a part time basis. 701 constables recruited, 1500 proposed strength.
(2) A locally recruited military force (U.D.R.) under army control to protect key installations and guard against armed terrorist attacks. (Ulster Defence Regiment Act 1969). 5688 members accepted, of which 3911 are now operational.
(e) The removal from the police of all responsibility for prosecutions and the establishment of a system of independent public prosecutors. The Government has accepted (April 1971) the recommendation of the MacDermott Committee that summary prosecutions be taken out of the hands of the police and that a department of public prosecutors be set up. This will take some time to establish. May 13th 1971 - The Prime Minister announced in Stormont that a Director of Public Prosecutions would be appointed shortly.


Various joint communiqués have recognised that good community relations is the positive expression of the reform Programme as experienced by the man in the street. It was recognised that good community relations could be promoted by various methods including the prohibition of incitement to religious hatred, the avoidance of discrimination in any form of public employment, fair allocation of houses by public authorities and the opportunity for citizens to express their grievances to a fair and impartial authority. As a consequence the following emerged:

(a) A Ministry of Community Relations headed by a Government politician of Cabinet rank.
(b) a "Community Relations Commission" whose members are appointed by the Governor, and whose duty is to help in the establishment of harmonious community relations, advising Ministers on questions relating to community relations, assisting local bodies concerned with community relations, providing training courses, promoting conferences and undertaking research projects. (Community Relations Act 1969).
(c) The establishment of a "Commissioner for Complaints" (Commissioner for Complaints (NI.) Act 1969) to deal with complaints of mal-administration by Local Authorities or public bodies. In this context, the Northern Ireland Government agreed to introduce an anti-discrimination clause in all Government contracts and to keep under review the adequacy of existing law against incitement to hatred. The commissioner has already handled a larger volume of complaints than the "Ombudsman." In his first report the Commissioner states he received 1193 complaints during 1970. 344 were outside his jurisdiction, 50 were withdrawn and 57 were dropped by him. 285 had been investigated. 14 of these alleged religious or political discrimination, but none was found; maladministration was found in 14 of 125 cases. A large number of cases have still to be investigated.


Although modelled on the English Race Relations Act, this Act goes further than the English Act. It extends protection to religious as well as racial groups and it covers incitement to fear as well as .to hatred. Since it became law in 1970 no prosecution has been made by either the Attorney General or the Police. It is becoming apparent that the wording of the Act is such that no prosecution could be successfully made under it.


The "ombudsman" established by Parliamentary Commissioner (N.I.) Act 1969 is empowered to hear complaints against central government departments and certain public bodies. His powers were extended to cover personnel matters in the civil service from 1st April 1970. Between July 1969, when the Ombudsman took up office, and December 1970, 99 cases were submitted, 58 were outside his jurisdiction, 33 have been investigated and 8 are under investigation. Of the 33, 31 were not justified, and 2 were remedied.


The Housing Executive Act (N.I.) 1971 provides a new framework for the administration and control of all publicly owned housing in N. Ireland. This is to be placed in the hands of a Housing Executive, consisting of 9 persons, appointed by the Minister of Development 3 of whom must be members of, and be nominated by, the Housing Council. The members have been appointed (May 1971) and the Executive will gradually take over control of housing from the Housing Trust and Local Authorities, and when it is fully operative from the Craigavon, Londonderry and Antrim/Ballymena Development Commissions. In addition a Housing Council is established consisting of local government representatives which may advise the Executive. The Housing Executive is liable to the same requirements for allocating houses on a points scheme to which the Local Councils were subject.


A Commission chaired by Mr. Patrick Macrory was appointed to review Local Government and reported in February 1970. Its recommendations were broadly accepted by the Government in a speech in Parliament by the then Prime Minister Major Chichester-Clark (Dec. 17th). The local government changes suggested were based on the need for greater centralisation in an area and with a population the size of N.Ireland. Certain major functions of local government - planning, roads and traffic management, water, medical and social services, education - are to be concentrated in the Government Ministries and administered through 5 Area Boards (Belfast, Ulster West, South, North-East and South-East). Lesser services are to be the functions and responsibilities of 26 District Councils, each of which is to be based on a town. The completion of this area of reform requires the passing of about 20 new Acts of Parliament, and will take some time to complete. The first step is the establishment of the new District Councils so that the holding of local government elections to them on a new electoral register and with one man - one vote, may take place in October/November 1972.


The Local Government (Boundaries) Act (N.I.) 1971 provided for the division of N. Ireland into 26 Districts for local government, following the acceptance by the Government of the recommendations of the Macrory Report on the re-organisation of local government. Under the Act the Governor appointed an independent Local Government Boundaries Commissioner (31 Mar. 1971) to draw up the 26 new district council boundaries and those of the c.500 wards into which they will be divided.


Various communiqués by both Westminster and Stormont have emphasised that a real attempt would be made to reduce unemployment throughout the province and, in particular, in those areas of high unemployment west of the Bann. A five year Development Programme (Development Programme 1970-75), drawn up by three Independent consultants has been adopted. This provides for the growth of key centres and areas of accelerated industrial growth which include Downpatrick. Dungannon, Enniskillen, Omagh, Strabane, Londonderry, Newry, Ballymena and Lame. The programme repeatedly emphasises that increased industrial growth is impossible in the face of sectarian rioting and community discord. The change of Government at Westminster has inevitably affected the economy of N. Ireland. The discontinuation of the Investments Grants Scheme and its replacement with grants on expenditure for new plant, machinery and buildings, even though coupled with better tax allowances, has decreased N. Ireland’s attractiveness to new industry in an increasingly competitive situation.


Whilst it must be recognised that these reforms enacted, or in process, represent a great move forward by the Unionist Government, there are several further reforms which N.U.M. considers highly desirable, and has publicly or privately pressed for in the last year.

(1) That every effort be made to get a system of public prosecutors established with a minimum of delay so that the police are not involved in this work.
(2) That for similar offences arising out of riots, disturbances, parades, or street disorders, the charges brought against persons involved shall be similar, irrespective of their religion, and the penalties imposed shall also be similar.
(3) That verdicts in trials by jury be changed to a majority vote.
(4) That investigation of the wording of the Incitement to Hatred Act be made, and it be altered to be made effective.
(5) That the Government faces up to the security problems involved in the hundreds of parades each year, and their damaging effect on the community as a whole, and limits them permanently by law to reasonable numbers.
(6) That the Government at the same time encourages Orange tradition towards an annual festival-type celebration and Gaelic tradition towards a similar major festival on another date.
(7) That the Minister of Community Relations should have more Influence over other Government Ministries, and should be a member of the Security Committee.
(8) That there should be greater representation by Catholic5 on all public bodies, commissions, etc., including those already established, and that the Opposition Parties in Stormont be consulted when making such appointments.
(9) That an independent and professional Information Service be established, with direct access to facts, and the responsibility of making public the truth in controversial situations, with a minimum of delay and before public prejudice has built up on rumours.
(10) That the Government recognise the urgency of the need for community centres and recreational facilities for all ages, particularly in Belfast, and makes every effort to provide them in the near future.


It must be recognised that the reforms outlined in the previous section provide a framework for the Northern Ireland community in which there could be equality of citizenship and an opportunity to participate in the running of the community by all groups including minorities. In certain respects the framework of our society is now in advance of the U.K. and of other democratic nations. However powerful the pressure has been from Westminster for us to reach this state of affairs, the fact remains that credit must be given to the present Unionist Government for enacting these reforms. The question which now confronts the Northern Ireland community is whether - particularly in the light of extremist violence by both I.R.A. and U.V.F. - the spirit of the Reform Programme is to percolate through to the man in the street. Will the spirit of the reforms be permitted to grow as O’Neill, Callaghan and Chichester-Clark, and more recently Maudling, clearly envisaged?

To ask this question brings us face to face with the bleak fact of the sterility of party politics in Northern Ireland. What Callaghan has described as the "frozen immobility of our political structures’ and what N.U.M. has constantly described as the "strait-jacket of history" is almost certainly guaranteed to thwart the spirit of the Reform Programme. It is a tragic fact that our political leaders - both inside and outside Stormont - seem to have as their principal objective in life, the scoring of political points off their opponents, and the preservation of their political party or group irrespective of the common good of the whole community. As long as Unionist politicians consider that their prime function is to maintain their ascendancy and as long as Opposition M.P.’s consider their prime objective is to remain intransigent, the Northern Ireland community will be held back by the prejudices of the past. N.U.M. believes that the Reform Programme provides an excellent framework in which good community relations can develop. We believe also, however, that the good of the community transcends party politics, and that some kind of structure must be created whereby it can be seen clearly that all minorities have access to power, and are actively involved in the running of our province.

There are two ways of achieving this. Firstly, the Government could offer to the Opposition, certain key positions such as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Community Relations, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Development and membership of the Security Council, which presumably will continue to operate as long as the current emergency exists. Alternatively - and of course this may be achieved via the Crowther Commission or through the adoption of Proportional Representation - a way may be found in which there is a measure of coalition or inter-party Government at Cabinet level. Other countries like Switzerland have done this without denying the basic principles of democracy. As long as Stormont remains an institution of devolved government, there is no reason why it should not be restructured along these lines.* N.U.M, can see no evidence that the present structure in which two major parties are subject to vigorous pressure from extremist groups at their flanks, can ever generate the calibre of creative, dynamic leadership which we need in order to make the Reform Programme the basis of a new Ulster. It is ironic that for a number of years an all-party Committee has existed at Stormont to promote a programme of overseas aid and has been working efficiently and effectively on behalf of the developing countries. It is time that the people of Northern Ireland asked why this service cannot be provided for themselves.

Finally, in addition to the Reform Programme framework which has largely been provided, together with the need for some kind of inter-party grouping at Stormont, there is also the need for each citizen of Northern Ireland, whatever their religion, to commit themselves in their individual spheres of influence, to operate the spirit of the Reform Programme. Every citizen has the opportunity day in and day out to organise his life and take his decisions in the spirit of the reforms. It seems clear that if we refuse to do this and turn instead to the old, outworn loyalties of the past, the community of Northern Ireland will remain divided, torn by periodic violence, economically poor and morally bankrupt.


*For a detailed discussion of possible changes in Northern Ireland’s political structures see N.U.M.'s pamphlet on the Reform of Stormont, published in June 1971.


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