seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Office of Governor of Northern Ireland Abolished

The mainly ceremonial office of Governor of Northern Ireland is abolished on July 18, 1973 under Section 32 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a cabinet office created in 1972, takes over the functions of the Governor on December 20, 1973 under Letters Patent.

The office of the Governor of Northern Ireland is established on 9 December 9, 1922 under Letters Patent to “do and execute in due manner as respects Northern Ireland all things which by virtue of the [1920] Act and our said Letters Patent of 27 April 1921 or otherwise belonged to the office of Lord Lieutenant at the time of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922.”

The 1922 “Instructions” sent alongside the letters patent establishing the office require the Governor of Northern Ireland to get the monarch’s permission to leave Northern Ireland, and empowers the Governor in such cases to issue letters patent under the Great Seal of Northern Ireland appointing a “Deputy or Deputies, Justice or Justices” during his absence. This emulates the practice of appointing Lords Justices of Ireland when the Lord Lieutenant is absent from Ireland. Each new Governor upon taking office selects a slate of eligible deputies from among the Privy Council of Northern Ireland, and at each of his subsequent absences a subset of these are sworn in for its duration. Many are Lord Chief Justice or Lord Justice of Appeal, including Denis Henry, William Moore, James Andrews, Anthony Babington, John MacDermott, Baron MacDermott, and Samuel Clarke Porter. Others are Senators and/or county lieutenants, including Robert Sharman-Crawford, Robert David Perceval-Maxwell, Henry Armstrong, Sir Thomas Dixon, 2nd Baronet, Maurice McCausland, and Francis Needham, 4th Earl of Kilmorey.

The Governor has possession of the Great Seal of Northern Ireland and is the successor to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in Northern Ireland, itself established on May 3, 1921. The official residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland is Hillsborough Castle in County Down. Following refurbishment of the Castle, James Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn, takes up residence in 1925. It remained the official residence until the abolition of the office of governor in 1973. Henceforth it has been the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


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1973 Northern Ireland Assembly Election

politics-of-northern-irelandElections to the Northern Ireland Assembly take place on June 28, 1973 following the publication of the British government‘s white paper Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals which proposes a 78-member Northern Ireland Assembly, elected by proportional representation. The election leads to power-sharing between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland for the first time.

From June 7, 1921 until March 30, 1972, the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland is the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which always has an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) majority and always elects a UUP government. The Parliament is suspended on March 30, 1972.

Shortly after this first parliament is abolished, attempts begin to restore devolution on a new basis that will see power shared between Irish nationalists and unionists. To this end a new parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, is established by the Government of the United Kingdom on May 3, 1973.

Following the June 28 elections, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which receives the Royal Assent on July 18, 1973, abolishes the suspended Parliament of Northern Ireland and the post of Governor and makes provision for a devolved administration consisting of an Executive chosen by the Assembly.

One hundred eight members are elected by single transferable vote from Northern Ireland’s eighteen Westminster constituencies, with five to eight seats for each depending on its population. The Assembly meets for the first time on July 31, 1973.

A cross-community coalition of the Ulster Unionist Party under Brian Faulkner, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is agreed in November 1973 and, following the Sunningdale Agreement, a power-sharing Executive is established from January 1, 1974.

After opposition from within the Ulster Unionist Party and the Ulster Workers’ Council strike over the proposal of an all Ireland council, the Executive and Assembly collapses on May 28, 1974 when Brian Faulkner resigns as Chief Executive. The Northern Ireland Assembly is abolished by the Northern Ireland Act 1974.

In 1982 another Northern Ireland Assembly is established at Stormont, initially as a body to scrutinise the actions of the Secretary of State, the British minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland. It receives little support from Irish nationalists and is officially dissolved in 1986.

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 formally establishes the Assembly in law, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. The first election of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly is on June 25, 1998 and it first meets on July 1, 1998. However, it only exists in “shadow” form until December 2, 1999 when full powers are devolved to the Assembly. Since then the Assembly has operated intermittently and has been suspended on five occasions.


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Birth of James Hamilton, First Governor of Northern Ireland

james-hamiltonJames Albert Edward Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn, is born in Hamilton Place, Piccadilly, London, on November 30, 1869. Styled Marquess of Hamilton between 1885 and 1913, he is a British peer and Unionist politician. He serves as the first Governor of Northern Ireland, a post he holds between 1922 and 1945. He is a great-grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Hamilton is the eldest son of James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn, and godson of the Prince of Wales. His mother, Lady Mary Anna, is the fourth daughter of Richard Curzon-Howe, 1st Earl Howe. He is educated at Eton College and subsequently serves first in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers until 1892 when he joins the 1st Life Guards. He is later transferred as major to the North Irish Horse.

In early 1901 he accompanies his father on a special diplomatic mission to announce the accession of King Edward to the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Russia, Germany, and Saxony.

In the 1900 general election, Hamilton stands successfully as Unionist candidate for Londonderry City, and three years later he becomes Treasurer of the Household, a post he holds until the fall of Arthur Balfour‘s Conservative administration in 1905. After serving for a time as an Opposition whip, Hamilton succeeds his father as third Duke of Abercorn in 1913. In 1922, he is appointed governor of the newly created Northern Ireland. He also serves as Lord Lieutenant of Tyrone from 1917 until his death, having previously been a Deputy Lieutenant for County Donegal. Abercorn proves a popular royal representative in Northern Ireland, and is reappointed to the post in 1928 after completing his first term of office. In 1931, he declines the offer of the governor generalship of Canada, and three years later he is again reappointed governor for a third term. He remains in this capacity until his resignation in July 1945.

Abercorn is made the last non-royal Knight of the Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick in 1922. In 1928 he becomes a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and is also the recipient of an honorary degree from the Queen’s University Belfast. He receives the Royal Victorian Chain in 1945, the same year he is sworn of the Privy Council.

Abercorn marries Lady Rosalind Cecilia Caroline Bingham, only daughter of Charles Bingham, 4th Earl of Lucan and his wife Lady Cecilia Catherine Gordon-Lennox at St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, on November 1, 1894. They have three daughters and two sons.

Abercorn dies at his London home on September 12, 1953, and is buried at Baronscourt in County Tyrone.