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Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals (1973)

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Text: NIO ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals

Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by Command of Her Majesty,
March 1973

Published in London by,

SBN 10 152590 7
Cmnd. 5259

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The Paper for Discussion
Developments since publication of the Paper for Discussion
Essential conditions
The problem of violence
Economic problems
Social problems
Renewal of Temporary Provisions
Northern Ireland Bill
United Kingdom status of Northern Ireland
Devolution of powers to Northern Ireland institutions
A Northern Ireland Assembly
Committees of the Assembly
Northern Ireland Commission
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Conditions for devolution of powers
Formation of the Executive
Legislative powers
Legislation to deal with violence and subversion
Restraints upon devolved legislative powers
Executive powers
Law and order
Transferred executive powers
Appointment of Heads of Departments
The Civil Service of Northern Ireland
Restraints upon devolved executive powers
Replacement of existing institutions and constitutional provisions
Links with the Crown
Northern Ireland Privy Council
Financial arrangements
The requirement
Protection of human rights ..
The acceptance of obligations
Summary of proposals

Part 1


The Paper for Discussion

1. In October 1972 the Government published "The Future of Northern Ireland: A Paper for Discussion". This Paper reviewed the background, set out the proposals made up to that time by the Northern Ireland parties and other interests, together with the wide range of theoretical options, established the basic facts-political, economic and security-which would have to be taken into account in moving towards a settlement, and stated the criteria which firm proposals for the future must meet.

2. These fundamental criteria were set out in paragraph 79 of the Paper as follows:

    (a) In accordance with the specific pledges given by successive United Kingdom Governments, Northern Ireland must and will remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as that is the wish of a majority of the people; but that status does not preclude the necessary taking into account of what has been described in this Paper as the 'Irish Dimension'.

    (b) As long as Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament must be acknowledged, and due provision made for the United Kingdom Government to have an effective and continuing voice in Northern Ireland's affairs, commensurate with the commitment of financial, economic and military resources in the Province.

    (c) Any division of powers and responsibilities between the national and the regional authorities must be logical, open and clearly understood. Ambiguity in the relationship is a prescription for confusion and misunderstanding. Any necessary checks, balances or controls must be apparent on the face of a new constitutional scheme.

    (d) The two primary purposes of any new institutions must be first to seek a much wider consensus than has hitherto existed; and second to be such as will work efficiently and will be capable of providing the concrete results of good government: peace and order, physical development, social and economic progress. This is fundamental because Northern Ireland's problems flow not just from a clash of national aspirations or from friction between the communities, but also from social and economic conditions such as inadequate housing and unemployment.

    (e) Any new institutions must be of a simple and businesslike character, appropriate to the powers and functions of a regional authority.

    (f) A Northern Ireland assembly or authority must be capable of involving all its members constructively in ways which satisfy them and those they represent that the whole community has a part to play in the government of the Province. As a minimum this would involve assuring minority groups of an effective voice and a real influence; but there are strong arguments that the objective of real participation should be achieved by giving minority interests a share in the exercise of executive power if this can be achieved by means which are not unduly complex or artificial, and which do not represent an obstacle to effective government.

    (g) There must be an assurance, built into any new structures, that there will be absolute fairness and equality of opportunity for all. The future administration of Northern Ireland must be seen to be completely even-handed both in law and in fact.

    (h) It is of great importance that future arrangements for security and public order in Northern Ireland must command public confidence, both in Northern Ireland itself, and in the United Kingdom as a whole. If they are to do so they must be seen in practice to be as impartial and effective as possible in restoring and maintaining peace and public order. In any situation such as that which obtains at present, where the Army and the civilian police force are both involved in maintaining law and order and combatting terrorism, it is essential that there should be a single source of direct responsibility. Since Westminster alone can control the Armed Forces of the Crown this unified control must mean Westminster control. For the future any arrangements must ensure that the United Kingdom Government has an effective and a determining voice in relation to any circumstances which involve, or may involve in the future, the commitment of the Armed Forces, the use of emergency powers, or repercussions at international level.95

Developments since publication of the Paper for Discussion

3. Exceptional measures were taken to ensure that the Paper for Discussion would be as widely circulated and read as possible, particularly within Northern Ireland itself. In all 12,650 copies had been sold there, through H.M. Stationery Office and other Government offices, by 31 January 1973 and in addition 200,000 leaflets based on the Paper had been distributed, and a tabloid summary circulated with newspapers is estimated to have reached 1,209,000 readers.

4. There were full parliamentary debates, in the House of Commons on 13 November 1972 and in the House of Lords on 5 December 1972. Following these debates the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has had extensive discussion on the basis of the Paper with political parties, leaders of the Churches, and other bodies and individuals in Northern Ireland. Although a very wide range of views was expressed, there was a considerable measure of agreement, not only within Northern Ireland but in the rest of the United Kingdom, in the Irish Republic and in overseas countries that the Paper for Discussion provided a thorough, fair and objective basis for considering the very complex problems of Northern Ireland.

5. The extensive consultations which both preceded and followed the publication of the Paper for Discussion have not produced any single, agreed set of proposals for a constitutional settlement. Indeed, given the wide range of views and the complexity of the issues, it would have been surprising if they had. Many significant differences of opinion remain. Nevertheless, the consultations have been useful, indeed essential, in throwing up very significant areas of agreement:

    (a) Whatever their views on sovereignty and citizenship, most of those consulted (although not all) have favoured the restoration of some kind of devolved institutions of government in Northern Ireland.

    (b) There has been a wide area of agreement that the central feature of these institutions should be a single-chamber elected legislative assembly of 80-100 members.

    (c) There has also been a broad measure of agreement that a significant role within such an assembly should be allocated to a structure of powerful committees (although the specific proposals for such a structure show considerable variations).

    (d) There has been general agreement that a new settlement should in some way or other make provision for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

    (e) Almost all the parties are prepared to accept new institutional arrangements for consultation and co-operation on an all-Ireland basis, although some make their agreement conditional or limited.

None of these courses is in any way inconsistent with United Kingdom policies or interests.

6. These consultations have shown that there are important aspects of a new constitutional settlement which can be based directly upon the views and the proposals of Northern Ireland parties and interests.

7. There have been a number of other significant developments since the publication of the Paper for Discussion. First, on I January 1973 the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland both became member countries of the European Economic Community, a development which is bound to have an ever-increasing impact upon the lives of all who live in these islands.

8. Second, the then Government of the Republic of Ireland introduced, and the Oireachtas carried into law, new legislation designed to cope with terrorist activity, and the authorities of the Republic have subsequently brought before the courts under these new powers some of those persons involved in the organisation and direction of IRA terrorism throughout Ireland.

9. Third, the Government has accepted in principle the report of Lord Diplock's Commission (Cmnd. 5185), recommending various changes in the arrangements for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland so as to make it possible to bring before the courts more of those engaged in terrorist activities in Northern Ireland, while pointing out that in some cases there is no substitute for procedures such as those prescribed by the Detention of Terrorists Order 1972.

10. Finally, on 8 March 1973, a poll was held throughout Northern Ireland, in accordance with the Northern Ireland (Border Poll) Act 1972. The result, declared on 9 March 1973, was that 591,820 electors voted in favour of the first proposition

    "Do you want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom?"
while 6,463 electors voted in favour of the second proposition
    "Do you want Northern Ireland to be joined with the Republic of Ireland, outside the United Kingdom?"

Part 6


Summary of Proposals

116. There follows a broad summary of the detailed proposals made in this White Paper:

    (i) A comprehensive constitutional Bill will be presented to Parliament with the objective of bringing new permanent arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland into effect within the second year of the direct rule provisions of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act (para. 30).

    (ii) The Bill will declare that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as that is the wish of a majority of its people (para. 32).

    (iii) As part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland will maintain its existing representation of twelve Members in the United Kingdom Parliament (para. 33).

    (iv) There will be a Northern Ireland Assembly of about 80 members elected on this occasion by the single transferable vote method of proportional representation applied to the twelve Westminster Constituencies (para. 39).

    (v) Elections to the Assembly will be held as soon as possible (para. 40)

    (vi) The Assembly wifi have a fixed term of four years (para. 41).

    (vii) The Assembly itself will elect its presiding officer and work out its own detailed methods and procedures (paras. 42 and 43).

    (viii) There will be committees of the Assembly, whose members will reflect the balance of parties, associated with each Northern Ireland Department. The Chairmen of these committees who collectively will form the Executive will be the political Heads of the Departments and the committees will be associated with the development of new law and policy (para. 44).

    (ix) Between the election of the Assembly and a devolution of powers the advisory functions of the Northern Ireland Commission will be undertaken by a committee composed of members of the Assembly (para. 47).

    (x) There will continue to be a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who will be a member of the United Kingdom Cabinet. He will undertake the necessary consultation leading to the devolution of powers, administer certain services reserved to the United Kingdom Government and be responsible for United Kingdom interests in Northern Ireland (paras. 48-50).

    (xi) The purpose of the Secretary of State's consultations with parties in the Assembly will be to find an acceptable basis for the devolution of powers which will meet prescribed conditions, in particular as to the formation of an Executive which can no longer be solely based upon any single party, if that party draws its support and its elected representation virtually entirely from only one section of a divided community. Members of the Executive will be required to take an appropriate official oath or make an affirmation (paras. 51-53).

    (xii) The United Kingdom Parliament will continue to have the power to legislate in respect of any matter whatever in Northern Ireland (para. 54).

    (xiii) The Assembly, after a devolution of powers, will be able to legislate in respect of most matters affecting Northern Ireland. There will, however, be a limited range of matters on which it may legislate only with agreement and certain others which, because of their national importance, will be excluded from its legislative competence. Where agreement is required, a measure, having been passed by the Assembly, will be laid before the United Kingdom Parliament (paras. 56 and 57).

    (xiv) Measures of the Northern Ireland Assembly will have the force of law when approved by the Queen in Council (para. 57).

    (xv) Since the Government has no higher priority than to defeat terrorism and end violence, Parliament will be asked to approve specific emergency legislation for the more effective combatting of terrorism, including giving effect to the recommendations of the Report of the Diplock Commission. This will make possible the repeal of the Special Powers Act and the re-enactment by the United Kingdom Parliament of those provisions which are regarded as essential (paras. 58-62).

    (xvi) The constitutional Bill will debar the Assembly from passing legislation of a discriminatory nature and from legislating to require an oath or declaration as a qualification for employment, office, etc., where this is not required in comparable circumstances in the rest of the United Kingdom. An Order-in-Council will shortly be brought forward to remove existing obligations which conflict with this principle (e.g. in relation to the requirement for a statutory declaration of allegiance by local government councillors) (paras 63 and 64).

    (xvii) The Bill will provide for the discharge of executive functions in Northern Ireland on the following broad basis:
    (a) in general United Kingdom Ministers other than the Secretary of State will retain their existing responsibilities in relation to Northern Ireland (para. 66);
    (b) certain matters previously the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government will be permanently reserved to the United Kingdom Government (that is, the appointment of certain judges, magistrates, etc.; the conduct of public prosecutions; elections and the franchise; and exceptional measures in the law and order field to cope with emergency situations) (para. 67);
    (c) certain other matters, notably in the "law and order" field, will be reserved to the United Kingdom Government because of the current security situation. Arrangements will, however, be made to secure the effective representation of local interests in relation to such matters, including a general advisory role for the Northern Ireland Executive itself, the addition of elected representatives to the Police Authority and the creation of links between District Councils and the police in their areas (paras. 68-70); and
    (d) responsibility for all other matters will rest with the Northern Ireland Executive (para. 71).

    (xviii) The Executive of Northern Ireland will consist of the political Heads of Northern Ireland Departments (including a central secretariat whose Head will preside over the Executive). Their formal appointment will be effected by the Secretary of State in accordance with any agreed understanding as to the formation of the Executive (paras. 72 and 73).

    (xix) The Northern Ireland Civil Service will remain a distinct service under the Crown (para. 76).

    (xx) The constitutional Bill will forbid executive action of a discriminatory nature by central and local government and other public bodies (para. 77).

    (xxi) There will be no weakening whatever in Northern Ireland's links

    with the Crown. Where executive power is not devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive, it will be exercised either by The Queen in Council or by Her Majesty's Government. There will cease to be an office of Governor of Northern Ireland (para. 81).

    (xxii) No further appointments will be made to the Privy Council of Northern Ireland (para. 82).

    (xxiii) The Bill will include financial provisions of a straightforward character designed to accomplish as rapidly as possible the task of physical reconstruction, to create a sound base for the economy and to help Northern Ireland achieve those standards of living, employment and social conditions which prevail in Great Britain (paras. 83-86).

    (xxiv) The Government will discuss with the Northern Ireland institutions what arrangements can be made to provide them with a large measure of freedom to determine expenditure priorities (paras. 88 and 89).

    (xxv) The Bill will include proposals to provide the individual with the safeguards and protections of a charter of human rights. The statutory safeguards against abuse of legislative and executive powers have already been described (para. 95).

    (xxvi) Appropriate arrangements will be made for ex post facto reviews of the handling of complaints against the police, with an independent element, to conform with those which the Government is planning to introduce in Great Britain (para. 97).

    (xxvii) The Government will present to Parliament proposals to deal with job discrimination in the private sector (paras. 100-103).

    (xxviii) The Bill will provide for the appointment by the Secretary of State of a Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (para. 104).

    (xxix) In the context of the provisions constituting a charter of human rights, society is entitled to expect an acceptance by individual citizens of their obligations to the community as a whole (para. 105).

    (xxx) The Government favours, and is prepared to facilitate, the establishment of institutional arrangements for consultation and co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (para. 110).

    (xxxi) Progress towards setting up such institutions can best be made through discussion between the interested parties. Accordingly, following the Northern Ireland elections, the Government will invite representatives of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland to take part in a conference to discuss how best to pursue three inter-related objectives. These are the acceptance of the present status of Northern Ireland, and of the possibility - which would have to be compatible with the principle of consent-of subsequent change in that status; effective consultation and co-operation in Ireland for the benefit of North and South alike; and the provision of a firm basis for concerted governmental and community action against terrorist organisations (para. 112).

    (xxxii) The United Kingdom Government must be associated with discussion of subjects touching upon its interests (para. 114).


117. Under the proposed settlement, Northern Ireland will continue to have a greater degree of self-government than any other part of the United Kingdom. While benefitting in full measure from all the practical advantages of the British connection-for the proposals embody political, financial and economic arrangements which are in general both flexible and generous - Northern Ireland will continue, to a very large extent, to make its own laws and administer its own services, particularly in relation to such crucial issues as employment, housing, development of the regional infrastructure and education.

118. These proposals are designed to benefit the law-abiding majority in both communities, who may have conflicting views on the ultimate constitutional destiny of Northern Ireland, but who seek to advance those views by peaceful democratic means alone, and have strong mutual interests in making social and economic progress. The proposals provide an opportunity for all such people to stand together against those small but dangerous minorities which would seek to impose their views by violence and coercion, and which cannot, therefore, be allowed to participate in working institutions they wish to destroy.

119. To all those who support the continued union with Great Britain, the proposals offer firm assurances that this union will endure and be defended, for as long as that is the wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. They seek to strengthen the democratic institutions of Northern Ireland by winning for them that wide-ranging consent upon which the government of a free country must rest. They commit the whole United Kingdom to a major effort to narrow the gap in standards of living, employment and social conditions between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

120. To all those who seek the unification of Ireland by consent, but are genuinely prepared to work for the welfare of Northern Ireland, the proposals offer the opportunity to play no less a part in the life and public affairs of Northern Ireland than is open to their fellow citizens.

121. To all, whatever their religion or their political beliefs, the proposals extend effective protection against any arbitrary or discriminatory use of power.

122. These, then, are the Government's proposals to Parliament, to the country, and above all to the people of Northern Ireland themselves for a way forward out of the present violence and instability. At every point, they require the co-operation of those people themselves if they are to have any prospect of success. They can be frustrated if interests in Northern Ireland refuse to allow them to be tried or if any section of the community is determined to impose its will on another. It should now be perfectly clear that these are prescriptions for disaster. The Government believes, however, that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland have an overwhelming desire for peace and that they will accept the opportunity which these proposals offer.

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