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'Towards a New Ireland' - Proposals by the Social Democratic and Labour Party

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Text: SDLP ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

The following pamphlet has been contributed by the Social Democratic and Labour Party. 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.

Proposals by the Social Democratic and Labour Party
1972 Out of Print

Originally published by:
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) 1972

This material is copyright Social Democratic and Labour Party, 1972, and is included on the CAIN site with the permission of the party. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the publishers. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.


Proposals by the Social Democratic and Labour Party


An Examination
A Declaration
The Proposals
The Interim System of Government
A National Senate of Ireland
Summary of Proposals
A. The Treaty
B. National Identity
C. Individual Rights
D. The Commissioners
E. The Assembly
F. The Executive Council
G. The Constitutional Court
H. Community Relations Board
I. The National Senate of Ireland
J. The Representation
K. Subventions


Any proposals which are put forward as a solution to the present serious difficulties of the North of Ireland must be proposals which will provide permanent peace, and stability so that the people of Ireland of all traditions, can come 'together on a basis of harmony and justice, ending for all time the unjust domination of any one Irish tradition by another. They must be proposals which are put forward without taking into account any sectional oi party advantage and which are arrived at by a genuine analysis of the constitutional and institutional difficulties which have led to the present situation.

The first unchallengeable fact which we face is that the area which has come to be known as "Northern Ireland" is inherently unstable. While many people, including ourselves, will react with horror to the terrible atrocities and violence of which all our people have been victims, the fact remains that any Society which has been the subject of periodic and sustained political violence is inherently unstable, and it is this basic truth which is :the under- lying cause of all our difficulties.

The last attempt to find a settlement to the problems of this country was THE GOVERNMENT OF IRELAND ACT 1920. It was an imposed settlement which was at the time, unacceptable to all sections of the people of this Island. It has failed. One of its essential elements, The Stormont Parliament, has recently disappeared and it is necessary to realise that its failure does not simply represent the failure of the Northern System of Government but the failure of the 1920 Irish Settlement of which it was a part.

Any re-examination must therefore take place, not in a purely Six County context, but in an Irish context.

Secondly, the means whereby the original settlement was arrived at-the threat of violence by a minority of the people not only of this Island but of the United Kingdom as well and its refusal to accept the democratic decision of the elected representatives of 'the British and Irish peoples at the beginning of the century - were means which were essentially undemocratic and placed a serious question mark over the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland state - a recipe for periodic political violence.

Thirdly, the means whereby the area of the State was decided - the necessity through a deliberate sectarian headcount of providing permanent sectarian domination was a further recipe again for permanent instability which will frustrate in the future, as it has done in the past, all genuine attempts to destroy sectarianism as a force in Irish Politics.

Fourthly, those who object to Catholic ascendancy, particularly in the religious field, in the Republic of Ireland are in effect, objecting to the results of the partition settlement which institutionalised the differences between the two main traditions creating a Protestant ascendancy in the North and a Catholic one in the South, thereby preventing the positive interaction of one tradition on the other, which a unified state would have provided. Normal politics has thus become impossible in both parts of this Island ever since preventing the essential debate on w h a t politics should be about-the conflict between capital and labour interests on issues affecting a fairer distribution of the country's income and wealth and a fuller use of its natural resources.

Finally, we are now in the second half of the twentieth century, at a time when the whole of Europe is looking to the future with a vision to end the old quarrels. Old and bitter enemies are settling their differences and are working together in a new and wider context of a United Europe. We in this Island cannot remain in the seventeenth century. We cannot participate in this vision while at the same time continuing our outdated quarrel. It is not beyond the wit and ingenuity of the Irish people - all its sections-to devise amongst themselves a means whereby they can live together in peace and harmony. To do so requires no further imposed settlements but agreements freely arrived at amongst our- selves without any outside interference.


It follows from all of this that Britain must not again attempt to impose a settlement on this country. The key to her role now lies in her making an immediate declaration that she believes that it would be in the best interests of all sections of the Communities in both Islands, if Ireland were to become united on terms which would be acceptable to all the people of Ireland. Such declaration should contain no hint of coercion but should make it abundantly clear that this is Britain's view and it is the one that she will positively encourage. No one in Ireland has demanded that such a declaration be translated into immediate Irish Unity. There are too many problems inherent in its implementations which will take time to resolve and which will require the setting up of democratic machinery for their resolution. In the meantime an interim system of Government for Northern Ireland should be set up which is fair to all sections.


The basic proposals of the Social Democratic and Labour Party therefore fall into three parts.

1. An immediate declaration by Britain that she believes that it would be in the best interest of all sections of the Communities in both Islands, if Ireland were to become united on terms which would be acceptable to all the people of Ireland and that she will positively encourage the prosecution of this view point.

2. The creation of an Interim system of Government for Northern Ireland which will be fair to all sections of the people of Northern Ireland.

3. The creation of Democratic Machinery in Ireland to implement the terms of the above declaration by the agreement and consent of the people of Ireland, North and South.


It is both fair and reasonable to assume that until a new system of Government is created in Ireland, democratically agreed to by all sections of the people of Ireland, North and South, that neither section of the population of the North will abandon immediately their present basic loyalties. Any Interim system of Government for Northern Ireland which is devised must take those basic loyalties into account, and must give fair expression to them. It must also provide an acceptable Police and Security system. The recognition of these two factors is essential to providing a peaceful interim settlement and to removing the possibility of political violence.

In the absence of a settlement which they will regard as better than their present position Protestant loyalty in general will remain partly to Britain, partly to themselves as a people, to their way of life and to a British link as a safeguard of that way of life. On the other hand Catholics in general will continue to give their loyalty to Ireland. Immediate unity therefore means defeat of Protestants and victory for Catholics, and the continuation of the present constitutional relationship with Britain means victory for Protestants and defeat for Catholics. Either would mean the continued existence of political violence by dissident minorities.

We would therefore make the following proposals designed to create an interim system of Government which will take into account the need to give fair expression to the present basic loyal- ties of both sections of the people of the North. They will also create an acceptable system of security and policing which will ensure an effective end to political violence. The provision of the latter is a key to success of any interim proposals and it should be emphasised that one of the main weaknesses of Stormont or any of the more civilised versions of it now being proposed by other parties (such as N.I.L.P. and ALLIANCE) is that they fail to give full expression and protection to the basic Irish aspirations of the Catholic community.

We would propose that Britain and the Republic of Ireland agree on the treaty accepting joint responsibility for an interim system of Government for Northern Ireland to be known as the Joint Sovereignty of Northern Ireland, reserving to themselves all powers relating to foreign affairs, defence, security, police and financial subventions and setting up the following institutions:-

1. Two Commissioners to act jointly as the Representatives of the Sovereign powers who must jointly sign all legislation passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly unless either or both Commissioners are of the opinion that any legislation is an infringement of the Treaty between Britain and the Republic of Ireland, in which case they may refer the legislation to the Constitutional Court which must decide whether the Assembly has exceeded its powers.

2. An Assembly consisting of 84 members and elected by the people of Northern Ireland for a period of four years on basis of proportional representation (the single transferable vote) to legislate in all fields including taxation except those reserved to the Sovereign powers.

3 An executive of 15 members elected by proportional representation from the members of the Assembly, exercising executive powers for the duration of the Assembly, and holding Office throughout its duration except through an adverse vote of 75% of the Assembly.

4. A Chief Executive elected by the Executive to allocate depart- mental responsibilities subject to the approval of both Commissioners.

5. A Constitutional Court of three judges, one appointed by each Commissioner in addition to the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. The functions of this Court would be to hear appeals on Constitutional law from the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal and to pronounce on the constitutionality of legislation referred to them by the Commissioners.

6. All legislation to require the signature of each Commissioner.

7. Flags of both Sovereign States to have equal status.

8. No representation in either Westminster or Dublin Parliament is envisaged.

The treaty should also guarantee normal civil liberties to all citizens and should allow complete freedom of political expression. All powers of security should be under the direct control of a department headed by both Commissioners. The creation of an acceptable security system is the crucial key to providing peace and order and must include a new unarmed police force or forces jointly recruited by both Governments to maintain peace and order. The area should normally have no military presence but if necessary both Commissioners should be able to call on the Defence Forces of both Sovereign Governments to enter the area.


It must be clear that the translation of the declaration by the British Government on the question of Irish Unity into a reality is the most difficult and delicate of all our proposals to implement. The very mention of Irish Unity creates the impression of the Catholic victory with which it has come to be associated. It is necessary therefore to make clear from the outset that the unity that we seek is an entirely new concept and that the New Ireland that should evolve will be one that will still Protestant fears and will have the agreement and consent of all sections of opinion in Ireland. To achieve this the machinery which will bring it into being, must be such as to give full confidence to the Protestant Community in the North, that the kind of Ireland that will emerge will be one, in which their rights are fully and adequately protected and in which, they would be subjected to no sectional or sectarian domination and in which they would play a full roll.

Accordingly we would propose the creation of a NATIONAL SENATE OF IRELAND which would have equal representation (elected by P.R.) from both the Dublin Parliament and the New Northern Assembly. The basic function of the Senate should be to plan the integration of the whole island by preparing the harmonisation of the structures, laws and services of both parts of Ireland and to agree on an acceptable constitution for a New Ireland and its relationships with Britain. We would visualise that no preconceived concept should be placed before the Senate but that a new concept of a New Ireland should evolve from the genuine discussions of the elected representatives of all sections who comprise its membership, although we would envisage the emergence of a Parliament for the whole of Ireland directly elected.

THE NATIONAL SENATE would also plan and implement initially, harmonisation of policies in all fields in which there is already an obvious common ground and a necessary common interest such as regional planning in the context of E.E.C. electricity and power, tourism and all social and economic matters that common sense demands should be pursued in the context of the whole Ireland.

The arrangement for the Constitution, Functions and Finance of the NATIONAL SENATE must be a part of the treaty between Britain and the Republic of Ireland.


1. A Declaration by Britain that it would be in the best interests of all sections of the communities in both islands if Ireland were to become united on terms acceptable to all the people of Ireland, North and South, and that she will positively encourage such a development.

2. A treaty between Britain and the Republic of Ireland:-

(a) Accepting joint interim responsibility for the administration of Northern Ireland through certain institutions including two Commissioners, an Assembly and an executive, and reserving to themselves all powers of security defence, policing, foreign affairs and financial subventions.

(b) Setting up of a National Senate drawn equally from the Northern Assembly and the Dublin Parliament to plan the integration of the whole island and the harmonisation of structures, laws and services in both parts of the island.

3 These proposals are to be taken as Unified and Interdependent.


We recognise that these proposals will involve certain legalproblems and in this appendix we give our suggestions as to how some of these problems should be dealt with as well as outliningthe institutions that we envisage for the Joint Sovereignty.


1 . The basic and fundamental document would be a treaty between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland who would, after the treaty had been ratified by the respective jurisdictions in Dublin and London, constitute the Joint sovereignty of Northern Ireland.

2. Once the treaty has been ratified, legislation in Westminster and Dublin would have to be passed. Westminster is the legal sovereign over Northern Ireland at present and only the British parliament could surrender the sole and exclusive power to exercise jurisdiction in, over and under Northern Ireland and its territorial waters. Westminster would also have to pass consequential legislation to enable the troops to be placed under the command of the joint sovereigns, to enable payments of subventions to the Commissioners etc. Finally, the Republic of Ireland would also have to amend a number of its laws but the effect would be more far-reaching. Various parts of the 1937 Constitution would have to be amended or repealed, in particular article 3 which limits the applicability of the laws passed by the Parliament of the Republic to the 26 Counties area.

3. Because of the fact that Northern Ireland would not form part of the land territory of either Great Britain or the Republic, the treaty would have to lay down that both states would enter into negotiations with the E.E.C., the United Nations and other international agencies to apply trade, economic, monetary and telecommunications, agreements, amongst others to Northern Ireland. As far as the E.E.C. is concerned, this would provide an added impetus to the demands for a regional development programme, which would embrace areas which have national affinities of geography and economy and which were artificially sundered in 1920.

4. In the event of a dispute between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain as to the interpretation of the treaty (as distinct from whether a matter fails to be determined by the Constitutional Court), both parties will undertake under the treaty to accept as compulsory the jurisdiction of International Court of Justice at The Hague and will further undertake to accept the judgment of the Court.

5. Nearly all the provisions of the Treaty can only be operative if both the sovereign powers carry out their obligations in good faith. Since good faith is a requirement of International Law in the observance of treaties, either party would be breaking its obligations under International Law (which neither the Republic nor Great Britain would do lightly, in the current international atmosphere) if it created difficulties or placed obstacles in the way of implementing the machinery anticipated in the treaty e.g. by not appointing the Commissioner or by refusing to appoint a Judge of its nomination to the Constitutional Court. If this situation did arise and since it is desirable that the treaty provisions should not be negated, it is possible to include a provision in the treaty that in the event of one of the parties failing to carry out a particular duty in the treaty e.g. non-appointment of a Commissioner, that such an appointment might be made by an external agency.

6. The Treaty would contain a general preamble which would embrace the intentions of the state parties to the treaty. The object of the preamble is that it sets down the political aims and aspirations of the parties and relates them to the context in which the treaty provisions will operate.

7. Although the kind of declaration envisaged in the Party's proposals concerning the reunification of the country will normally be found in the preamble to the treaty, it is suggested that such a declaration should form Article 1 of the Treaty. In this way the declaration should not only include the legally binding provisions of the Treaty (preambles are not binding -in the event of ambiguity they are guides to interpretation) but the status of the Declaration is raised to a more solemn and serious plane.

8. Since this Treaty would be between two states, it would be necessary for the purposes of protecting the human rights provisions, to implement the Treaty within Northern Ireland. in other words to have the force of law in Northern Ireland, the present legal sovereigns would have to pass legislation implementing the Treaty within Northern Ireland at the same time as Great Britain ratifies the Treaty. Otherwise, it would be necessary for the Assembly of Northern Ireland to do so which is neither desirable nor legally possible since the Assembly would not have competence to legislate on certain matters covered by the Treaty.

9. In addition to the declaration of unity, the Treaty will contain the following matters:

(a) An acceptance by both state-parties of joint sovereignty which will constitute their interior responsibility for the administration of Northern Ireland.

b) A recognition of the national identities of both communities in Northern Ireland.

(c) Specific guarantees of the rights of the individual in Northern Ireland cognisable in courts of law;

(d) The establishment of the institution of the interior system of government.

(e) The constitution, powers and duties of the National Senate of Ireland.

(f) The constitution, duties and powers of a Community Relations Board.


10. The Treaty shall recognise the right of inhabitants of Northern Ireland to claim either Irish or British citizenship, to hold either a British or Irish passport, to use the facilities provided abroad by British or Irish consulates and embassies. It shall be unlawful to discriminate against a person who holds a particular citizenship for the purpose of any form of public or private employment or the conferment of any benefit.

11. The Treaty shall recognise the right of Northern Ireland to have a flag and an anthem which would enable the people to have a focus of loyalty. The British and Irish flags shall have official status and shall be flown on public occasions together with the Northern Ireland flag.


12. The Treaty shall guarantee the normal and accepted civil liberties already accepted by the Joint Sovereigns. Such rights as the right to free speech, publication and peaceful assembly, equality, before the law, freedom from arbitrary arrest. freedom from imprisonment or other forms of punishment without trial, freedom from cruel or unusual punishments shall be protected by the courts of law. To establish the integrity of such rights and to permit the derogations accepted in a democratic state, the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms shall become part of the internal law of Northern Ireland.

13. In addition to the above rights included in the European Convention the right, peacefully to advocate change to or retention of the status of Northern Ireland shall be specifically guaranteed.

14. The Republic of Ireland and Great Britain shall agree to permit the right of individual petition to the European Commission on Human Rights to holders of their passports where it is alleged that the provisions relating to human rights have been violated.


15. Each Government shall appoint a Commissioner whose duties shall be general overseeing of the powers and duties specifically reserved to the Joint Sovereigns. Any power not reserved to the Commissioners shall be exercisable by the Assembly and any dispute as to whether a particular function is a reserved function or not shall be determined by the Constitutional Court.

16. Legislation shall be jointly signed by the Commissioners. In the event of a refusal to sign a law because of any possible infringement of the Treaty, a Commissioner shall refer the matter to the Constitutional Court whose decision shall be final and binding.

17. The Commissioners shall have the authority to establish advisory committees to assist them in the execution of their reserved functions.

18. In order to assist the Commissioners in the exercise of police and security matters, they shall have authority to appoint a Security Council. The Commissioners shall be responsible for the recruitment and administration of police forces in Northern Ireland. in the event of any outbreak of political violence, the Commissioners shall have the authority to declare a State of Emergency. In such a situation, units of the armed forces of the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain may enter Northern Ireland to deal with such violence. The commanding officers of such forces shall be under the authority of and shall be responsible to the Commissioners. Such forces shall leave Northern Ireland at the end of any state of emergency.

19. The appointment, terms of employment and other conditions of service of all levels of the judiciary shall fall tinder the jurisdiction of the Commissioners. The administration of justice, including the office and functions relating to the Director of Public Prosecutions, shall fall under the jurisdiction of the Commissioners. Senior judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal and the Director of Public Prosecutions shall not be dismissed or disciplined by the Commissioners without the consent of the Constitutional Court.


20. The Assembly shall have the power to legislate on all matters not expressly reserved to the Joint Sovereigns by the Treaty. It shall also have the power to levy taxes in Northern Ireland for expenditure on functions not reserved to the Joint Sovereigns. Besides this limitation on the legislative competence of the Assembly, the only further limitation on the competence of the Assembly in the interim period will be the Bill of Rights provisions. No legislation shall violate the provisions of the Bill of Rights and every person residing in Northern Ireland or affected by legislation passed by the Assembly shall have the right to contest the validity of such legislation in the High Court. The Commissioners shall have the right to refer legislation which might violate the provisions of the Bill to the Courts for an advisory opinion.

21. The 84 members of the Assembly shall be elected under a system of proportional representation, in multi-member constituencies with a single transferable vote. There will bean Electoral Commission comprising three members, one each appointed by the Commissioners and the third by the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. The Commissioner shall be charged with the duty of dividing the territory of Northern Ireland into appropriate constituencies, bearing in mind the principle that one vote shall have an equal value in all parts of Northern Ireland. Hence, there shall be no discrimination in favour of or against any particular part of Northern Ireland.


22. The Executive Council shall be elected by the Assembly on the basis of the proportional representation of the parties and groups in the Assembly. The Executive Council members shall elect a Chief Executive whose function shall be to preside at meetings of the Executive Council and to allocate or distribute departmental responsibilities. The Treaty shall fix the maximum and minimum number of departments. The allocation of departments to individual council members shall require the consent of the Commissioners. In the event of inability to reach an agreement between the Chief Executive and the Commissioners, the Commissioners shall allocate the departmental responsibilities. Each member of the Executive ;Committee shall be responsible for the department allocated to him.

23. The life of the Executive Committee shall coincide with the life of the Assembly. In other words, although the Executive Committee shall report to the Assembly and be answerable to it, it will not be removed save in a situation where three quarters of the total membership of the Assembly pass a motion of no confidence in the Executive Committee. In such a situation, the Executive Committee shall resign and fresh elections to appoint a new Executive Committee by the Assembly shall take place. If the Assembly is unable to make such an appointment or if another vote with a majority of three quarters of the members of the Assembly pass a further vote of no confidence, the Assembly shall be dissolved and elections for a new Assembly shall take place.


24. The Constitutional Court shall consist of three judges one each appointed by the Commissioners, the third being the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. The Courts' jurisdiction shall extend to the cases (i) where the Commissioners have referred legislation to test the legislation's validity to the Treaty and (ii) on appeal from the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal on points of constitutional law and violations of the Bill of Rights.


25. The Treaty shall make provision for the appointment by the Commissioners of a Community Relations Board, responsible to the Commissioners. The powers of the Board shall be similar to those of the Race Relations Board and shall include the powers of prosecution but the Board shall have further and more precise powers in the field of employment.


26. The National Senate shall be constituted on the basis of provisions of the Treaty between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. It will be comprised of 50 members - 25 appointed by the Assembly of Northern Ireland and 25 appointed by Dail Eireann on the basis of parity of group strength.

27. The National Senate shall meet at least four times a year, and its sittings shall alternate between Dublin and Belfast.

28. Initially, the National Senate would plan and propose the harmonisation of policies in areas of common interest such as regional planning in the context of the EEC, electricity and power, tourism and certain aspects of social and economic policy.

29. Besides providing a forum of discussion on matters of common interest, the National Senate shall plan the integration of the whole island by preparing the harmonisation of the structures, laws and services of both parts of Ireland and it would keep, as an urgent task, the perspective of an acceptable constitution for the new Ireland. During the interim period, it would also turn its attention to the provisions of the 1937 Constitution which provides the consitutional framework for the Republic of Ireland.


30. There should be no representation of Northern Ireland in Dail Eireann or in the House of Commons.


31. The subvention should be paid by Britain and the Republic of Ireland in proportion to their Gross National Product and should be the subject of annual negotiations between Northern Ireland, Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The subvention will be partly used to defray the expenses of the Commission and those departments subject to the Commission control and partly placed at the disposal of the Assembly to enable it to maintain an adequate level of social services, etc., within Northern Ireland.

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