“Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals” white paper (1973)




In March 1973 the British government released a white paper (policy paper) called “Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals”. This document proposed a number of political reforms in Northern Ireland, including a new assembly and a cross-border council with the Republic. This white paper formed the basis of the Northern Ireland Assembly Bill and the Sunningdale Agreement:



“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…

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…

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

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…

v. Elections to the Assembly will be held as soon as possible…

vi. The Assembly will have a fixed term of four years…

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…

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

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… This will make possible the repeal of the Special Powers Act…

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 interrelated objectives. These are the acceptance of the present status of Northern Ireland and of the possibility… 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…

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.”

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