Optimism tempered by lessons of the past

Northern Ireland's new government

ALTHOUGH HOPES were high last night that the new executive and assembly might eventually prove a success, similar institutions have in the past proved dismal failures.

On four occasions, such assemblies have proved to be arenas for bitterness, disruption, boycotts and, on occasion, hand-to-hand fighting. All degenerated into sectarian battlegrounds where disagreements were proclaimed but not resolved.

The Stormont parliament, which existed between 1921 and 1972, became a symbol of Protestant supremacy and refusal to share power. Although it was set up on the Westminster model - complete with prime minister, speaker, mace and other trappings - the crucial element of alternation of power was missing.

For 50 years, the Unionist party won every election and formed every government, using its permanent majority to vote down every nationalist proposal, with the single exception of one measure in the 1930s, the Wild Birds Act.

The institution proved unable to cope with the Catholic civil rights agitation of the late 1960s and the mounting violence of the early 1970s. As the security situation worsened the Social Democratic and Labour Party withdrew and in 1972 Edward Heath's government, despairing of reforming the institution, closed it down.

The Northern Ireland assembly of 1973-74 was set up by Heath as an attempt to establish a new devolved administration which would be run jointly by Protestants and Catholics. A moderate Unionist faction led by the late Brian Faulkner combined with the SDLP to form a new "power-sharing executive" drawn from the assembly. After some months of protests within the assembly, loyalists turned their attentions to other methods. Five months after the establishment of the executive, a Protestant general strike was launched by a committee which included members of paramilitary groups, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party. Within weeks this brought Northern Ireland to a virtual standstill and caused the collapse of both the executive and the assembly.

The next elected body, the constitutional convention of 1975-76, was less violent but nevertheless also failed to produce political progress. In the chamber itself there was no actual violence but a generally mistrustful atmosphere, with walkouts, much heckling and angry exchanges.

The failures of these bodies meant many years passed before the path was tried again with the Northern Ireland assembly, which lasted from 1982 to 1986. While the SDLP and Sinn Fein contested the election both refused to take their seats.

When London and Dublin signed the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985, Unionists suspended normal business and transformed the assembly into a vehicle of protest. In 1986 it was formally dissolved, but 21 Unionist members refused to leave the chamber and were forcibly ejected by police.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine