seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Anne Letitia Dickson Elected UPNI Leader

Anne Letitia Dickson is elected leader of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI) on September 15, 1976, becoming the first woman to lead a political party in Ireland.

Born in London on April 18, 1928, Dickson moves with her family to Northern Ireland at an early age and is educated at Holywood and Richmond Lodge School. After service as the Chair of the Northern Ireland Advisory Board of the Salvation Army she becomes actively involved in politics for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Elected as chair of the Carrick Division Unionist Association she later becomes a member of the Newtownabbey Urban District Council, serving as Vice-Chair from 1967 to 1969.

Dickson is then elected as an Ulster Unionist politician for the Carrick constituency in the Parliament of Northern Ireland at Stormont as a supporter of Prime Minister Terence O’Neill. After the dissolution of the Stormont Parliament, she is elected in the 1973 Assembly election for South Antrim as an Independent Unionist candidate having resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party in 1972.

After the Ulster Unionist party split in 1974 over the Sunningdale Agreement, Dickson joins the newly formed Unionist Party of Northern Ireland along with other supporters of former Northern Ireland prime minister Brian Faulkner. She retains her seat in South Antrim in the 1975 constitutional convention election. After the retirement of Brian Faulkner in 1976 she becomes leader of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, becoming the first woman to lead a major political party in Northern Ireland.

In 1979 Dickson contests the Belfast North constituency in the Westminster election, polling 10% of the vote, the best performance by a UPNI candidate in Northern Ireland, however her intervention is sufficient to split the moderate Unionist vote resulting in the seat being gained by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Unionist Party of Northern Ireland disbands in 1981 after poor results in the local government elections and Dickson retires from active politics. Subsequently she is chair of the Northern Ireland Consumer Council from 1985 to 1990.

Dickson is appointed CBE in the 1990 Birthday Honours.


Leave a comment

Birth of Anne Devlin, Short Story Writer & Playwright

Anne Devlin, short story writer, playwright and screenwriter, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 13, 1951. She is a teacher from 1974 to 1978, and starts writing fiction in 1976 in Germany. Having lived in London for a decade, she returns to Belfast in 2007.

Devlin is the daughter of Paddy Devlin, a Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and later a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). She is raised in Belfast.

In January 1969, while a student at the New University of Ulster, she joins a civil rights march from Belfast to Derry, organised by the People’s Democracy. At Burntollet Bridge, a few miles from Derry, the march is attacked by loyalists. She is struck on the head, knocked unconscious, falls into the river, and is brought to hospital suffering from a concussion. The march is echoed in her 1994 play After Easter.

Devlin subsequently leaves Northern Ireland for England. She is visiting lecturer in playwriting at the University of Birmingham in 1987, and a writer in residence at Lund University, Sweden, in 1990.

Devlin’s screenwriting works include the BBC television three-episode serial The Rainbow (1988), the feature film adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1992) and the film Titanic Town (1999). She receives the Samuel Beckett Award for TV Drama in 1985 and the Hennessy Literary Award for short stories in 1992.


Leave a comment

Birth of Brian Faulkner, Sixth & Last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

Arthur Brian Deane Faulkner, Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick, the sixth and last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is born on February 18, 1921, in Helen’s Bay, County Down.

Faulkner is the elder of two sons of James, owner of the Belfast Collar Company, and Nora Faulkner. His younger brother is Colonel Sir Dennis Faulkner. He is educated initially at Elm Park preparatory school, Killylea, County Armagh, but at 14, preferring to stay in Ireland, is sent to the Church of Ireland-affiliated St. Columba’s College at Whitechurch, County Dublin, although he is Presbyterian. His best friend at the school is Michael Yeats, son of W. B. Yeats. He enters Queen’s University Belfast in 1939 to study law, but, with the advent of World War II, he quits his studies to work full-time in the family shirt-making business. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to have been educated in the Irish Free State and one of only two to have been educated in Ireland.

Faulkner becomes involved in unionist politics, the first of his family to do so, and is elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland as the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of East Down in 1949. His vociferous traditional unionist approach to politics ensures him a prominent backbench position. He is, at the time, the youngest ever MP in the Northern Irish Parliament. He is also the first Chairman of the Ulster Young Unionist Council in 1949. In 1956 he is offered and accepts the job of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, or Government Chief Whip.

In 1959, Faulkner becomes Minister of Home Affairs and his handling of security for most of the Irish Republican Army‘s border campaign of 1956–62 bolsters his reputation in the eyes of the right wing of Ulster unionism.

When Terence O’Neill becomes Prime Minister in 1963 he appoints Faulkner, his chief rival for the job, as Minister of Commerce. He resigns in 1969 over the technicalities of how and when to bring in the local government reforms which the British Labour government is pushing for. This is a factor in the resignation of O’Neill, who resigns as Prime Minister in the aftermath of his failure to achieve a good enough result in the 1969 Northern Ireland general election.

In the ensuing leadership contest, Faulkner loses out again when O’Neill gives his casting vote to his cousin, James Chichester-Clark. In 1970, he becomes the Father of the House. He comes back into government as Minister of Development under Chichester-Clark and in a sharp turn-around, begins the implementation of the political reforms that were the main cause of his resignation from O’Neill’s cabinet. Chichester-Clark himself resigns in 1971 as the political and security situation and the more intensive British interest proves difficult.

Faulkner is elected leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and Prime Minister. In his initial innovative approach to government, he gives a non-unionist, David Bleakley, a former Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) MP, a position in his cabinet as Minister for Community Relations. In June 1971, he proposes three new powerful committees at Stormont which would give the opposition salaried chairmanships of two of them.

However, this initiative (radical at the time) is overtaken by events. A shooting by soldiers of two nationalist youths in Derry causes the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the main opposition, to boycott the Stormont parliament. The political climate deteriorates further when, in answer to a worsening security situation, Faulkner introduces internment on August 9, 1971. This is a disaster and causes the situation to worsen.

Despite this, Faulkner continues his radical approach to Northern Irish politics and, following Bleakley’s resignation in September 1971 over the internment issue, appointes Dr. G. B. Newe, a prominent lay Catholic, as Minister of State in the Cabinet Office. His administration staggers on through the rest of 1971, insisting that security is the paramount issue.

In January 1972, an incident occurs during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Derry, during which paratroopers shoot and killed thirteen unarmed civilians. A fourteenth civilian dies later. What history has come to know as Bloody Sunday is, in essence, the end of Faulkner’s government. In March 1972, he refuses to maintain a government without security powers which the British government under Edward Heath decides to take back. The Stormont parliament is subsequently prorogued, initially for a period of one year, and following the appointment of a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, direct rule is introduced.

In June 1973, elections are held to a new devolved parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly. The elections split the UUP. Faulkner becomes chief executive in a power-sharing executive with the SDLP and the centre-ground Alliance Party, a political alliance cemented at the Sunningdale Conference that year. The power-sharing Executive lasts only six months and is brought down by a loyalist Ulster Workers’ Council strike in May 1974. In 1974, he loses the leadership of the UUP to anti-Sunningdale elements led by Harry West. He subsequently resigns from the Ulster Unionist Party and forms the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI).

The UPNI fares badly in the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention elections of 1975, winning only five out of the 78 seats contested. Faulkner wins the final seat. In 1976 he announces that he is quitting active politics. He is elevated to the House of Lords in the 1977 New Year Honours list, being created Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick on February 7, 1977.

Faulkner, a keen huntsman, dies on March 3, 1977 following a riding accident while hunting with the County Down Staghounds at the Ballyagherty/Station Road junction near Saintfield, County Down. He is riding at full gallop along a narrow country road when his horse slips, throwing him off and killing him instantly. He is laid to rest at Magherahamlet Presbyterian Church near Spa, County Down where he had been a regular member of the congregation. His twenty-four-day life peerage is thus the shortest-lived until the death of Lord Heywood of Whitehall in 2018 just nine days after ennoblement.


Leave a comment

Fermanagh County Council Pledges Allegiance to Dáil Éireann

Fermanagh County Council pledges allegiance to Dáil Éireann on December 15, 1921. After the meeting the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) takes over the council chamber.

Fermanagh County Council is the authority responsible for local government in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, between 1899 and 1973. It is originally based at the Enniskillen Courthouse, but moves to County Buildings in East Bridge Street, Enniskillen, in 1960.

Fermanagh County Council is formed under orders issued in accordance with the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 which comes into effect on April 18, 1899. Elections are held using proportional representation until 1922 when it is abolished in favour of first-past-the-post voting. On December 15, 1921, shortly before the partition of Ireland and transfer of power from the Dublin Castle administration, Fermanagh County Council passes a resolution on a 13–10 majority not to recognise the newly formed Parliament of Northern Ireland and pledges their allegiance to the unrecognised republican Second Dáil of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic in Southern Ireland before the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The resolution states, “We, the County Council of Fermanagh, in view of the expressed desire of a large majority of people in this county, do not recognise the partition parliament in Belfast and do hereby direct our Secretary to hold no further communications with either Belfast or British Local Government Departments, and we pledge our allegiance to Dáil Éireann.” In response, the Royal Irish Constabulary evict them from their council offices and confiscate official documents. As a result, the council is temporarily dissolved. The council are replaced by Commissioners appointed by Sir Dawson Bates.

The council is reformed by the time of the 1924 Northern Ireland local elections. As a protest against the abolition of proportional representation nationalist parties boycott the election, allowing unionist parties to take control of the council uncontested. Due to the abolition of proportional representation and gerrymandering, the council always has a unionist majority of councillors elected up until abolition. In 1967, the Government of Northern Ireland passes the County Fermanagh (Transfer of Functions) Order 1967. This makes Fermanagh County Council amalgamate with the smaller Enniskillen Borough Council and the rural district councils in Enniskillen, Irvinestown and Lisnaskea to turn Fermanagh County Council into a unitary authority.

In 1969, the Fermanagh Civil Rights Association publishes a booklet criticising the council and accusing them of favouring the Protestant community over the Catholic community. Some of the accusations include that the council deliberately hires Protestants for skilled local government and school jobs and that they propose to build a new village for Catholics in a gerrymandered district that already has a Catholic majority. The council is abolished in accordance with the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 on October 1, 1973 and replaced by Fermanagh District Council.

(Pictured: Coat of arms of Fermanagh County Council, Northern Ireland)


Leave a comment

Sinn Féin Holds First Formal Talks with the British Government in Over 70 Years

On December 9, 1994, Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), holds its first formal talks with the British Government in over 70 years. The negotiations take place in Belfast, almost one year after Britain and Ireland began an uncertain program to try to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. The first session is held at Stormont, a gigantic, columned edifice on top of a hill on the outskirts of Belfast that houses the old Northern Ireland parliament.

Although the announcement of the negotiations is not a surprise, it still sets off an exciting ripple that history is in the making. British officials have conducted secret talks with Sinn Féin leaders in the past, but never before have they sat down openly at the same table with them.

In both a letter to the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, and in a three-paragraph statement, Downing Street pointedly refers to the meeting as “exploratory dialogue.” This is in keeping with London‘s position that it is simply joining in “talks about talks,” not a full negotiating session, which must involve all parties to the conflict.

For 25 years the IRA has been fighting in the name of the Roman Catholic minority of 650,000 in Northern Ireland. It wants to link Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland that remain British after partition, to the Irish Republic, a move opposed by most of the province’s 950,000 Protestants.

The announcement of talks evoke a predictable pattern of responses across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum. Adams, who works to persuade the IRA to go along with a unilateral cease-fire that was declared on September 1, welcomes it. “The opportunity to realize a lasting peace, which will benefit all of the people of Ireland, has never been greater,” he says in a statement. Adams had been accusing London of foot-dragging on the peace effort. Now, he says, it is time to move on to “the next phase of dialogue — multilateral talks led by both Governments.”

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the main Protestant political group in Northern Ireland, is skeptically accepting, as it has been all along. John Taylor, a Unionist Member of Parliament, says the talks will at least establish whether “Sinn Féin really is to become a normal political party.”

The Rev. Ian Paisley, a Member of Parliament whose Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has become a rejectionist front, continues to oppose talks or any move smacking of compromise. He tells the House of Commons that “a vast majority of people” resent the decision to talk to “the men of blood.”

Sinn Féin is represented at the talks by Martin McGuinness, a veteran IRA political leader who took part in secret contacts that broke up the previous year. In 1972, together with Adams, he was flown to London for a meeting with William Whitelaw, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Those talks eventually failed.

Adams is in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, December 7. He attends a meeting at the White House, his first one there, with Anthony Lake, President Bill Clinton‘s National Security Advisor. Seven weeks earlier, Britain protests vigorously at the thought of Adams visiting the White House. But events moved so swiftly that he gains a kind of legitimacy that is hard for Whitehall to deny. His visa to the United States, good for three months, allows several visits.

The Government team of civil servants, in contrast to higher-level ministers, are led by Quentin Thomas, deputy secretary of the British administration called the Northern Ireland Office.

Going into the negotiations, the key question is what will be discussed. On the British side, the top of the agenda is how to get the IRA to turn over its considerable stash of 100 tons of arms and explosives. There is nothing, of course, that Sinn Féin is less likely to agree to at the outset. So should the British make this a condition for multilateral talks to begin, the two sides will meet an obstacle right away.

McGuinness says that the issue of IRA weapons has to be considered “in the context of us removing the causes of conflict, the reason why people use armed force in our society.”

From its side, Adams says Sinn Féin wants to discuss being treated with “a parity of esteem” with the other parties, and “the release of all political prisoners.”

The British Government says that it will soon hold talks with the so-called loyalist paramilitaries on the Protestant side. And it indicates it will have no objection if elected Sinn Féin councillors attend a major international investment conference in Belfast on December 13 and 14.

(From: “Britain and I.R.A. Group to Begin Talks in Northern Ireland” by John Darnton, The New York Times, December 2, 1994 | Pictured: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness lead a Republican parade in Belfast, commemorating 25 years of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1994)


Leave a comment

Birth of Basil Kelly, Northern Irish Barrister, Judge & Politician

Sir John William Basil Kelly, Northern Irish barrister, judge and politician, is born in County Monaghan on May 10, 1920. He rises from poverty to become the last Attorney General of Northern Ireland and then one of the province’s most respected High Court judges. For 22 years he successfully conducts many of the most serious terrorist trials.

A farmer’s son, Kelly is raised amid the horror of the Irish Civil War. The family is burned out when he is five and, penniless, goes north to take a worker’s house near the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Even though they are Protestant the Kellys are met with a cold welcome. To counter that, his mother starts a bakery while the he and his father sell the hot rolls to the area pubs.

Kelly initially attends a shipyard workers’ school, sometimes without shoes, and then goes on to Methodist College Belfast, where only boys prepared to work hard are welcome. His mother, who had taught him to play the piano by marking out the keyboard on the kitchen table, is so cross when she hears that he has been playing football in the street that she tells the headmaster that he does not have enough homework.

On a visit to an elder sister at Trinity College, Dublin, Kelly is so impressed by her smoking and her painted nails that he decides to follow her to the university, where he reads legal science. After being called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1944, he has the usual slow start, traveling up to 100 miles to earn a five-guinea fee. However, aided by a photographic memory and the patronage of Catholic solicitors, he gradually builds up a large practice, concentrating on crime and workers’ compensation while earning a reputation as the finest cross-examiner in the province.

Kelly first makes a mark by his successful defence of an aircraftman accused of killing a judge’s daughter. The man is found guilty but insane, though the complications involved bring it back to court 20 years later. After appointment as Queen’s Counsel in 1958 he skillfully conducts two cases which go to the House of Lords. One involves the liability of a drunken psychopath, the other the question of automatism where a person, acting like a sleepwalker, does not know what he is doing.

In the hope of speeding his way to the Bench, Kelly is elected to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland as Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) member for Mid Down in 1964. His capacity for hard work leads to his being appointed Attorney General four years later.

In March 1972, the entire Government of Northern Ireland resigns and the Parliament of Northern Ireland is prorogued. As a result, Kelly ceases to be Attorney General. The office of Attorney General for Northern Ireland is transferred to the Attorney General for England and Wales and he is the last person to serve as Stormont’s Attorney General.

In 1973, Kelly is appointed as a judge of the High Court of Northern Ireland, and then as a Lord Justice of Appeal of Northern Ireland in 1984, when he is also knighted and appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. On the bench he proves a model of fairness and courtesy with a mastery of facts, but his role often puts him in danger.

A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gang once targets him with a bomb-laden milk van, intending to drive it through his gates. But the police are alerted and immediately take him to Stormont, where he lives for the next two months.

For a year Kelly presides alone over a non-jury Diplock court, protected by armed police and wearing a bulletproof vest before writing his judgment under Special Air Service (SAS) guard in England. He convicts dozens of people on “supergrass” evidence, though there are subsequently doubts about the informant and some of his judgments are overturned.

One of the accused, Kevin Mulgrew, is sentenced to 963 years in prison, with Kelly telling him, “I do not expect that any words of mine will ever raise in you a twinge of remorse.” While the IRA grumbles about the jail terms he dispenses, and he is often portrayed as an unthinking legal hardliner by Sinn Féin, he is a more subtle figure and is often merciful towards those caught up in events or those whom he considers too young for prison.

Kelly retires in 1995 and moves to England, where he dies at the age of 88 at his home in Berkshire on December 5, 2008 following a short illness. He is survived by his wife, Pamela Colmer.

(From: “Basil Kelly,” Independent.ie (www.independent.ie), January 4, 2009)


Leave a comment

Introduction of the Special Powers Act 1922

The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is an Act introduced by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. The much larger group (nationalists) are mostly Roman Catholic, identified primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. The smaller group (unionists), concentrated primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identified primarily as British and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom. In the years before World War I, both groups establish armed militias intended to enforce their aims and protect their communities from the other side’s militias. The British government resolves to partition Ireland in an effort to alleviate unionists and nationalists, with the six most Protestant counties of Ulster forming Northern Ireland while the rest of Ireland achieves self-rule. This is accepted by most unionists as the best deal they are likely to get, but bitterly disappoints many nationalists, especially those who live in the six counties which become Northern Ireland. Many nationalists on both sides of the border feel that their country has been unjustly divided, and for many decades the Irish government claims that Northern Ireland is rightfully its territory.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Special Powers Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enable the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. The Minister of Home Affairs is empowered to make any regulation felt necessary to preserve law and order in Northern Ireland. Anyone who breaks these regulations can be sentenced to up to a year in prison with hard labour, and in the case of some crimes, whipping. A special summary jurisdiction is enabled to hear cases involving such crimes. The Minister of Home Affairs is also permitted to forbid the holding of inquests if he feels this is required to preserve order and peace.

The Schedule to the Act specifies actions which the government can take in order to preserve peace, although the body of the Act enables the government to take any steps at all which it thinks necessary. Actions specified in the Schedule include the closing of licensed premises, the banning in any area of meetings and parades in public places, the closing of roads, the taking of any land or property, and the destruction of any building. The Schedule also forbids the spreading by word of mouth or text any “reports or…statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to subjects of His Majesty.”

Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Special Powers Act is initially current for only one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent. According to John Whyte, this happens because, from 1925, nationalist MPs begin sitting in the Stormont parliament which they had initially boycotted. Unsurprisingly, they object strenuously to the renewal of the Act, and it is felt by the Ulster Unionist Party Minister of Home Affairs that it would be better to make the Act permanent than for Parliament annually to “wrangle” over it.

Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial, outlined in Paragraph 23 of the Schedule. In the period from May 1922 to December 1924, 700 republicans are interned under the Act.

Political violence declines dramatically by 1925, and the government gradually shifts its emphasis from broad measures designed to return civil order to the province to more preventative regulations aimed at suppressing the threat posed by republican aspirations. Regulations banning meetings and parades and restrictions on the flying of the Irish tricolour become more common. Between 1922 and 1950, the government bans nearly 100 parades and meetings, the vast majority of which are nationalist or republican. No loyalist gathering is ever directly banned under the Act, although a few are caught in blanket bans against parades or meetings in a particular area. From 1922 until 1972, 140 publications are banned, the vast majority of which express republican viewpoints.

After the troubles of the early 1920s has died down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s border campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of the Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the Provisional Irish Republican Army amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.

The Act encounters further controversy in the 1970s due to the deployment of the British Army in Northern Ireland and its role in maintaining order and similar policing-style duties. In 1972, the government is forced to amend the Act in order to legalise the detention of internees arrested by soldiers. Martin Meehan had been arrested after escaping from Crumlin Road Gaol and charged with escaping from lawful custody. At his trial he successfully argues that under the Special Powers Act a soldier has no power of arrest and, as such, he has the legal right to escape. He is awarded £800 in compensation for being illegally detained for twenty-three days.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Northern Ireland Opts Out of the Irish Free State

The six counties of what would become Northern Ireland opt out of the Irish Free State on December 7, 1922 and become a separate political entity with allegiance to England.

The Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 (Session 2) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, passed in 1922 to enact in UK law the Constitution of the Irish Free State, and to ratify the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty formally.

As originally enacted, the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922 consists of a preamble, five sections (three of which are very brief), and a schedule. The schedule is the text of the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) Act 1922, which had been passed in Ireland by the Third Dáil sitting as a constituent assembly and provisional parliament for the nascent Free State. This Irish Act itself has two schedules, the first being the actual text of the Constitution, and the second the text of the 1921 Treaty, formally the Articles of Agreement for a treaty between Great Britain and Ireland.

The Irish Act had been approved by the Irish constituent assembly on 25 October 25, 1922. The bill for the UK Act is introduced by the Prime Minister Bonar Law into the Parliament of the United Kingdom in November 1922. The bill’s third reading in the House of Commons is on November 30. The Act receives Royal assent on December 5, 1922.

On December 7, 1922, the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State, the Parliament of Northern Ireland addresses King George V requesting its secession from the Irish Free State. The address is unanimous, with the abstentionist Nationalist Party and Sinn Féin members absent. The King replies shortly thereafter to say that he has caused his Ministers and the Government of the Irish Free State to be informed that Northern Ireland is to do so.

After the Statute of Westminster 1931, the UK government recognises the right of the Irish government to amend or repeal the UK act, but in fact the Irish government does not do so until it is formally repealed as spent by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007. The Irish government amends the Irish act in 1933 and the 1937 Constitution of Ireland repeals the entire Free State constitution. The UK Judicial Committee of the Privy Council rules in 1935 that the 1933 Act had implicitly amended the UK Act with respect to the jurisdiction of the Free State. The Supreme Court of Ireland has taken the view that the Free State constitution was enacted by the Irish Act, not by the subsequent UK Act. This reflects the view of popular sovereignty rather than parliamentary sovereignty, with the constitution’s legitimacy ultimately springing from the 1922 Irish general election.