Society of Ireland
 

1980s

For the next 27? years, with the exception of five months in 1974, Northern Ireland was under "direct rule" with a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the British Cabinet responsible for the departments of the Northern Ireland government. Direct Rule was designed to be a temporary solution until Northern Ireland was capable of governing itself again. Principal acts were passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in the same way as for much of the rest of the UK, but many smaller measures were dealt with by Order in Council with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. Attempts were made to establish a power-sharing executive, representing both the nationalist and unionist communities, by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973 and the Sunningdale Agreement in December 1973. Both acts however did little to create cohesion between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Constitution Act of 1973 formalized the UK government's affirmation of reunification of Ireland by consent only; therefore ultimately delegating the authoritative power of the border question from Stormont to the people of Northern Ireland (and the Republic of Ireland). Conversely, the Sunningdale Agreement included a "provision of a Council of Ireland which held the right to execute executive and harmonizing functions". Most significantly, the Sunningdale Agreement brought together political leaders from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the UK to deliberate for the first time since 1925.[30] The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention and Jim Prior's 1982 assembly were also temporarily implemented; however all failed to either reach consensus or operate in the longer term. During the 1970s British policy concentrated on defeating the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) by military means including the policy of Ulsterisation (requiring the RUC and British Army reserve Ulster Defence Regiment to be at the forefront of combating the IRA). Although IRA violence decreased it was obvious that no military victory was on hand in either the short or medium terms. Even Catholics who generally rejected the IRA were unwilling to offer support to a state that seemed to remain mired in sectarian discrimination, and the Unionists were not interested in Catholic participation in running the state in any case. In the 1980s the IRA attempted to secure a decisive military victory based on massive arms shipments from Libya. When this failed, senior republican figures began to look to broaden the struggle from purely military means. In time this began a move towards military cessation. In 1986 the British and Irish governments signed the Anglo Irish Agreement signalling a formal partnership in seeking a political solution. The Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) recognized the Irish government's right to be consulted and heard as well as guaranteed equality of treatment and recognition of the Irish and British identities of the two communities. The agreement also stated that the two governments must implement a cross-border cooperation.[31] Socially and economically Northern Ireland suffered the worst levels of unemployment in the UK and although high levels of public spending ensured a slow modernisation of public services and moves towards equality, progress was slow in the 1970s and 1980s. Only in the 1990s, when progress toward peace became tangible, did the economic situation brighten. By then the demographics of Northern Ireland had undergone significant change, and more than 40% of the population was Catholic.

 



ESHSI, Department of Modern History, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland Contact: Membership Secretary