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The Sunningdale Agreement
Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
The Sunningdale Agreement
Tripartite agreement on the Council of Ireland
- the communique issued following the Sunningdale Conference
1. The Conference between the British and Irish Governments and
the parties involved in the Northern Ireland Executive (designate)
met at Sunningdale on 6, 7, 8 and 9 December 1973.
2. During the Conference, each delegation stated their position
on the status of Northern Ireland.
3. The Taoiseach said that the basic principle of the Conference
was that the participants had tried to see what measure of agreement
of benefit to all the people concerned could be secured. In doing
so, all had reached accommodation with one another on practical
arrangements. But none had compromised, and none had asked others
to compromise, in relation to basic aspirations. The people of
the Republic, together with a minority in Northern Ireland as
represented by the SDLP delegation, continued to uphold the aspiration
towards a united Ireland. The only unity they wanted to see was
a unity established by consent.
4. Mr Brian Faulkner said that delegates from Northern Ireland
came to the Conference as representatives of apparently incompatible
sets of political aspirations who had found it possible to reach
agreement to join together in government because each accepted
that in doing so they were not sacrificing principles or aspirations.
The desire of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland to
remain part of the United Kingdom, as represented by the Unionist
and Alliance delegations, remained firm.
5. The Irish Government fully accepted and solemnly declared that
there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until
a majority of the people of Northern Ireland desired a change
in that status. The British Government solemnly declared that it was, and would
remain, their policy to support the wishes of the majority of
the people of Northern Ireland. The present status of Northern
Ireland is that it is part of the United Kingdom. If in the future
the majority of the people of Northern Ireland should indicate
a wish to become part of a united Ireland, the British Government
would support that wish.
6. The Conference agreed that a formal agreement incorporating
the declarations of the British and Irish Governments would be
signed at the formal stage of the Conference and registered at
the United Nations.
7. The Conference agreed that a Council of Ireland would be set
up. It would he confined to representatives of the two parts of
Ireland, with appropriate safeguards for the British Government's
financial and other interests. It would comprise a Council of
Ministers with executive and harmonising functions and a consultative
role, and a Consultative Assembly with advisory and review functions.
The Council of Ministers would act by unanimity, and would comprise
a core of seven members of the Irish Government and an equal number
of members of the Northern Ireland Executive with provision for
the participation of other non-voting members of the Irish Government
and the Northern Ireland Executive or Administration when matters
within their departmental competence were discussed. The Council of Ministers would control the functions of the Council.
The Chairmanship would rotate on an agreed basis between representatives
of the Irish Government and of the Northern Ireland Executive.
Arrangements would be made for the location of the first meeting,
and the location of subsequent meetings would be determined by
the Council of Ministers. The Consultative Assembly would consist
of 60 members, 30 members from Dail Eireann chosen by the Dail
on the basis of proportional representation by the single transferable
vote, and 30 members from the Northern Ireland Assembly chosen
by that Assembly and also on that basis. The members of the Consultative
Assembly would be paid allowances. There would be a Secretariat
to the Council, which would be kept as small as might be commensurate
with efficiency in the operation of the Council. The Secretariat
would service the institutions of the Council and would, under
the Council of Ministers, supervise the carrying out of the executive
and harmonising functions and the consultative role of the Council.
The Secretariat would be headed by a Secretary-General. Following
the appointment of a Northern Ireland Executive, the Irish Government
and the Northern Ireland Executive would nominate their representatives
to a Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers would then
appoint a Secretary-General and decide upon the location of its
permanent headquarters. The Secretary-General would be directed
to proceed with the drawing up of plans for such headquarters.
The Council of Ministers would also make arrangements for the
recruitment of the staff of the Secretariat in a manner and on
conditions which would, as far as is practicable, be consistent
with those applying to public servants in the two administrations.
8. In the context of its harmonising functions and consultative
role, the Council of Ireland would undertake important work relating,
for instance, to the impact of EEC membership. As for executive
functions, the first step would be to define and agree these in
detail. The Conference therefore decided that, in view of the
administrative complexities involved, studies would at once be
set in hand to identify and, prior to the formal stage of the
conference, report on areas of common interest in relation to
which a Council of Ireland would take executive decisions and,
in appropriate cases, be responsible for carrying those decisions
into effect. In carrying out these studies, and also in determining
what should be done by the Council in terms of harmonisation.
the objectives to be borne in mind would include the following:
(1) to achieve the best utilisation of scarce skills, expertise
In particular, these studies would be directed to identifying,
for the purposes of executive action by the Council of Ireland,
suitable aspects of activities in the following broad fields:
(2) to avoid in the interests of economy and efficiency, unnecessary
duplication of effort; and
(3) to ensure complementary rather than competitive effort where
this is to the advantage of agriculture, commerce and industry.
(a) exploitation, conservation and development of natural resources
and the environment;
It would be for the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly
to legislate from time to time as to the extent of functions to
be devolved to the Council of Ireland. Where necessary, the British
Government will cooperate in this devolution of functions. Initially,
the functions to be vested would be those identified in accordance
with the procedures set out above and decided, at the formal stage
of the conference. to be transferred.
(b) agricultural matters (including agricultural research, animal
health and operational aspects
of the Common Agriculture Policy),
forestry and fisheries;
(c) co-operative ventures in the fields of trade and industry;
(d) electricity generation;
(f) roads and transport;
(g) advisory services in the field of public health;
(h) sport, culture and the arts.
|(i) During the initial period following the establishment of the Council, the revenue of the Council would be provided by means of grants from the two administrations in Ireland towards agreed projects and budgets, according to the nature of the service involved.
|(ii) It was also agreed that further studies would be put in hand forthwith and completed as soon as possible of methods of financing the Council after the initial period which would be consonant with the responsibilities and functions assigned to it.
|(iii) It was agreed that the cost of the Secretariat of the Council of Ireland would be shared equally, and other services would he financed broadly in proportion to where expenditure or benefit accrues.
|(iv) The amount of money required to finance the Council's activities will depend upon the functions assigned to it from time to time.
|(v) While Britain continues to pay subsidies to Northern Ireland, such payments would not involve Britain participating in the Council, it being accepted nevertheless that it would be legitimate for Britain to safe-guard in an appropriate way her financial involvement in Northern Ireland.
10. It was agreed by all parties that persons committing crimes
of violence, however motivated, in any part of Ireland should
be brought to trial irrespective of the part of Ireland in which
they are located. The concern which large sections of the people
of Northern Ireland felt about this problem was in particular
forcefully expressed by the representatives of the Unionist and
Alliance parties. The representatives of the Irish Government
stated that they understood and fully shared this concern. Different
ways of solving this problem were discussed; among them were the
amendment of legislation operating in the two jurisdictions on
extradition, the creation of a common law enforcement area in
which an all-Ireland court would have jurisdiction, and the extension
of the jurisdiction of domestic courts so as to enable them to
try offences committed outside the jurisdiction. It was agreed
that problems of considerable legal complexity were involved,
and that the British and Irish Governments would jointly set up
a commission to consider all the proposals put forward at the
Conference and to recommend as a matter of extreme urgency the
most effective means of dealing with those who commit these crimes.
The Irish Government undertook to take immediate and effective
legal steps so that persons coming within their jurisdiction and
accused of murder, however motivated, committed in Northern Ireland
will be brought to trial, and it was agreed that any similar reciprocal
action that may be needed in Northern Ireland be taken by the
11. It was agreed that the Council would be invited to consider
in what way the principles of the European Convention on Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms would be expressed in domestic
legislation in each part of Ireland. It would recommend whether
further legislation or the creation of other institutions, administrative
or judicial, is required in either part or embracing the whole
island to provide additional protection in the field of human
rights. Such recommendations could include the functions of an
Ombudsman or Commissioner for Complaints, or other arrangements
of a similar nature which the Council of Ireland might think appropriate.
12. The Conference also discussed the question of policing
and the need to ensure public support for and identification with
the police service throughout the whole community. It was agreed
that no single set of proposals would achieve these aims overnight,
and that time would be necessary. The Conference expressed the
hope that the wide range of agreement that had been reached, and
the consequent formation of a power-sharing Executive, would make
a major contribution to the creation of an atmosphere throughout
the community where there would be widespread support for and
identification with all the institutions of Northern Ireland.
13. It was broadly accepted that the two parts of Ireland are
to a considerable extent inter-dependent in the whole field of
law and order, and that the problems of political violence and
identification with the police service cannot be solved without
taking account of that fact.
14. Accordingly, the British Government stated that, as soon as
the security problems were resolved and the new institutions were
seen to be working effectively, they would wish to discuss the
devolution of responsibility for normal policing and how this
might be achieved with the Northern Ireland Executive and the
15. With a view to improving policing throughout the island
and developing community identification with and support for the
police services, the governments concerned will cooperate under
the auspices of a Council of Ireland through their respective
police authorities. To this end, the Irish Government would set
up a Police Authority, appointments to which would be made after
consultation with the Council of Ministers of the Council of Ireland.
In the case of the Northern Ireland Police Authority, appointments
would be made after consultation with the Northern Ireland Executive
which would consult with the Council of Ministers of the Council
of Ireland. When the two Police Authorities are constituted, they
will make their own arrangements to achieve the objectives set
16. An independent complaints procedure for dealing with complaints
against the police will be set up.
17. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will set up an
all-party committee from the Assembly to examine how best to introduce
effective policing throughout Northern Ireland with particular
reference to the need to achieve public identification with the
18. The Conference took note of a reaffirmation by the British
Government of their firm commitment to bring detention to an end
in Northern Ireland for all sections of the community as soon
as the security situation permits, and noted also that the Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland hopes to be able to bring into use
his statutory powers of selective release in time for a number
of detainees to be released before Christmas.
19. The British Government stated that, in the light of the decisions
reached at the Conference, they would now seek the authority of
Parliament to devolve full powers to the Northern Ireland Executive
and Northern Ireland Assembly as son as possible. The formal appointment
of the Northern Ireland Executive would then be made.
20. The Conference agreed that a formal conference would be held
early in the New year at which the British and Irish Governments
and the Northern Ireland Executive would meet together to consider
reports on the studies which have been commissioned and to sign
the agreement reached.