Northern Ireland

Council of Ireland Plan Postponed – On This Day in 1974

Against the background of the Ulster Workers’ Council strike, the new power-sharing executive agreed to postpone plans for a cross-border Council of Ireland for at least four years

A power-sharing executive led by Brian Faulkner was eventually formed but soon collapsed amid mass opposition by loyalists
A power-sharing executive led by Brian Faulkner would ultimately collapse in the face of mass opposition by loyalists
May 23 1974

The Northern Ireland Executive has decided to postpone the Council of Ireland plan for at least four years. This means that the Sunningdale Agreement cannot be fully implemented until after the next Assembly elections in 1977-78.

Instead, a Council of Ministers will be formed in the near future. But they will have no executive powers, no secretariat and no permanent headquarters. The plan for a second tier in the Council of Ireland structure has also been set back four years.

This was the shock announcement in the Assembly yesterday by the Chief Minister, Mr Brian Faulkner, who said that the extended timescale for the Council of Ireland plan would allow opinion to be tested.

The new plan will be debated in the Assembly today. It was debated by the SDLP assembly party at a private meeting at Stormont yesterday where it is believed that there was an 11-8 vote against the proposals. Agreement is understood to have been reached, however, after the British Minister of State, Mr Stanley Orme, had spoken to the SDLP members.

The Executive will meet the British and Dublin governments within the next few weeks so that the Council of Ministers plan can be formally agreed. The council will meet at alternative venues north and south and will be staffed by civil servants from Belfast and Dublin.

The Executive and the Dublin government will each nominate seven ministers to the council, which will act only on the basis of complete unanimity. Mr Faulkner said the council would provide “the forum for consultation, co-operation and co-ordination” of cross-border action on economic and social matters, ranging from tourism and geological surveys to electricity generation and sport.

The Council of Ministers will be the first phase of the new plan. Phase Two, after the 1977 Assembly elections, will include the introduction of Assembly legislation from time to time to provide for the transfer of functions from existing departments and authorities to the Council of Ministers.

The Council of Ministers would then be allowed to appoint a secretary-general and provision would be made for the nomination of members of the Assembly and the Dáil to the Consultative Assembly. The council would also decide the location of a permanent headquarters.

In a desperate attempt to save remnants of the Sunningdale Agreement amid the heat of the Ulster Workers’ Council strike, the Northern Ireland Executive proposed to postpone the Council of Ireland for at least four years.