seamus dubhghaill

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


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Dissolution of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on March 5, 1976, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees announces the dissolution of the short lived Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention (NICC).

The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention is an elected body set up in 1975 by the United Kingdom Labour government of Harold Wilson as an attempt to deal with constitutional issues surrounding the status of Northern Ireland.

The idea for a constitutional convention is first mooted by the Northern Ireland Office in its white paper The Northern Ireland Constitution, published on July 4, 1974. The paper lays out plans for elections to a body which would seek agreement on a political settlement for Northern Ireland. The proposals become law with the enactment of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 later that month. With Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Robert Lowry appointed to chair the new body, elections are announced for May 1, 1975.

The elections are held for the 78-member body using the single transferable vote system of proportional representation in each of Northern Ireland’s twelve Westminster constituencies. Initially the body is intended to be purely consultative, although it is hoped that executive and legislative functions can be devolved to the NICC once a cross-community agreement has been reached. Unionists opposed to the NICC once again band together under the umbrella of the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) and this coalition proves the most successful, taking 46 seats.

A number of leading Northern Ireland politicians are elected to the NICC, increasing hope that the body might achieve some of its aims. Also elected are some younger figures who go on to become leading figures in the future of Northern Ireland politics.

The elections leave the body fundamentally weakened from its inception as an overall majority has been obtained by those Unionists who oppose power sharing as a concept. As a result, the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention Report published on November 20, 1975 recommends only a return to majority rule as had previously existed under the old Parliament of Northern Ireland government. As such a solution is completely unacceptable to the nationalist parties, the NICC is placed on hiatus.

Hoping to gain something from the exercise, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees announces that the NICC would be reconvened on February 3, 1976. However, a series of meetings held between the UUUC and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) fail to reach any agreement about SDLP participation in government, and so the reconvened NICC once again fails to achieve a solution with cross-community support. As a result, Rees announces the dissolution of the body on March 5, 1976 and Northern Ireland remains under direct rule.

On the face of it, the NICC is a total failure as it does not achieve its aims of agreement between the two sides or of introducing ‘rolling devolution’ (gradual introduction of devolution as and when the parties involved see fit to accept it). Nevertheless, coming as it does not long after the Conservative-sponsored Sunningdale Agreement, the NICC indicates that no British government will be prepared to re-introduce majority rule in Northern Ireland. During the debates William Craig accepts the possibility of power-sharing with the SDLP, a move that splits the UUUC and precipitates the eventual collapse of the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP).

The idea of electing a consultative body to thrash out a deal for devolution is also retained and in 1996 it is revived when the Northern Ireland Forum is elected on largely the same lines and with the same overall purpose. The Forum forms part of a process that leads to the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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Birth of David Bleakley, Northern Ireland Politician

David Wylie Bleakley, politician and peace campaigner in Northern Ireland, is born in the Strandtown district of Belfast, Northern Ireland on January 11, 1925.

Bleakley works as an electrician in the Harland and Wolff dockyards while becoming increasingly active in his trade union. He studies economics at Ruskin College in Oxford, where he strikes up a friendship with C. S. Lewis, about whom he later writes a centenary memoir. He later attends Queen’s University Belfast. A committed Christian, he is a lifelong Anglican – a member of the Church of Ireland. Throughout his life, he is a lay preacher.

Bleakley joins the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and contests the Northern Ireland Parliament seat of Belfast Victoria in 1949 and 1953 before finally winning it in 1958. At Stormont, he is made the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, but he loses his seat in 1965. He is head of the department of economics and political studies at Methodist College Belfast from 1969 to 1979.

Bleakley runs for the Westminster seat of Belfast East in 1970 (gaining 41% of the vote), February 1974 and October 1974 for the Northern Ireland Labour Party each time, but never enough to win the Westminister seat from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). In 1971, Brian Faulkner appoints him as his Minister for Community Relations at Stormont, but as Bleakley is not an MP, he can only hold the post for six months. He resigns five days before his term expires in order to highlight his disagreement with government policy, specifically the failure to widen the government to include non-Unionist parties, and the decision to introduce internment. He writes a respectful biography of Faulkner and his own memoir of the period.

After the Parliament is abolished, Bleakley stands for, and is elected to, the Northern Ireland Assembly and its successor, the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention. He stands again for Belfast East in the February and October UK general elections, but wins only 14% of the vote each time.

By the late 1970s, the NILP is in disarray, and does not stand a candidate for the 1979 European Assembly election. Bleakley instead stands as an “Independent Community Candidate,” but takes only 1.6% of the votes cast.

During the 1980s, Bleakley sits as a non-partisan member of various quangos. From 1980 to 1992 he is general secretary of the Irish Council of Churches. In 1992, he joins the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and is an advisor to the group during the all-party talks. For the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum election, he is a prominent member of the Democratic Partnership list and stands in Belfast East, but is not elected. In 1998, he joins the Labour Party of Northern Ireland and stands in Belfast East in the Assembly elections, receiving 369 first preference votes.

Bleakley dies in Belfast at the age of 92 on June 26, 2017.


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Death of Unionist Politician David Ervine

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 82David Ervine, Northern Irish Unionist politician from Belfast and the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), dies on January 8, 2007, following a massive heart attack, a stroke and brain hemorrhage.

Ervine is born into a Protestant working-class family in east Belfast on July 21, 1953. He leaves Orangefield High School at age 14 and joins the Orange Order at age 18, however his membership does not last long. The following year he joins the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), believing this to be the only way to ensure the defence of the Protestant community after the events of Bloody Friday.

Ervine is arrested in November 1974, while an active member of the UVF. He is driving a stolen car containing five pounds of commercial explosives, a detonator and fuse wire. After seven months on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol he is found guilty of possession of explosives with intent to endanger life. He is sentenced to 11 years and imprisoned in The Maze.

While in prison, Ervine comes under the influence of Gusty Spence who makes him question what his struggle is about and unquestionably changes Ervine’s direction. After much study and self-analysis, he emerges with the view that change through politics is the only option. He also becomes friends with Billy Hutchinson while in prison.

Ervine is released from prison in 1980 and takes up full-time politics several years later. He stands in local council elections as a Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) candidate in 1985 Northern Ireland local elections. In 1996 he is elected to the Northern Ireland Forum from the regional list, having been an unsuccessful candidate in the Belfast East constituency. In 1998, he is elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly to represent Belfast East and is re-elected in 2003. He is also a member of Belfast City Council from 1997.

Ervine plays a pivotal role in bringing about the loyalist ceasefire of October 1994. He is part of a delegation to Downing Street in June 1996 that meets then British Prime Minister John Major to discuss the loyalist ceasefire.

Ervine suffers a massive heart attack, a stroke and brain haemorrhage after attending a football match between Glentoran F.C. and Armagh City F.C. at The Oval in Belfast on Saturday January 6, 2007. He is taken to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and is later admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where he dies on Monday, January 8, 2007. His body is cremated at Roselawn Crematorium after a funeral service on January 12 in East Belfast attended by Mark Durkan, Gerry Adams, Peter Hain, Dermot Ahern, Hugh Orde and David Trimble among others.