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About Levels of Government

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A summary of devolved government in Northern Ireland?

Here we give you a quick summary of the history of devolution in Northern Ireland.

The Stormont Parliament first met in 1921. When Ireland was partitioned, and the South effectively became independent. Devolution in Northern Ireland meant that Northern Ireland was given a devolved Parliament to control most areas of policy.

However, Stormont was dominated by the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party. Policies discriminated against Catholics in areas such as housing and jobs.  In the 1960s protests against this Protest ended in sectarian conflict between the Catholic and Protest and communities.

In 1972 the Stormont Government refused to hand over control of law and order to the British Government. Stormont was dissolved by the Conservative Government and Northern Ireland was controlled by Direct Rule from London.

The Good Friday Agreement – 1998

A slow change in political attitude within both communities provided the opportunity for Prime Minister Tony Blair to broker the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

This provided for deeper devolution in Northern Ireland and a New Northern Ireland Assembly. It’s features were

  • elections under a proportional voting system so that both communities were fairly represented
  • a Government run by a power-sharing Executive so that all parties achieving a significant vote would be included, and
  • cross-border cooperation with the Irish Republic.

The settlement was approved by a vote in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have to have support from a majority of Nationalist and Unionist members of the Assembly. 

The Assembly controls most domestic areas such as education, agriculture, employment, housing and health. 

Although arguments have occurred over issues such as the decommissioning of weapons and policing, and disagreements have led to the suspension of the Assembly by the British Government for short periods, cooperation between the parties has largely resumed.