Ulster under Home Rule: A Study of the Political and Economic Problems of Northern Ireland

By Thomas Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
THE LAW AND THE CONSTITUTION

By F. H. NEWARK


Introduction

THE Constitution of Northern Ireland represents an experiment in the government in this kingdom and, apart from its own intrinsic interest, has an importance in that it is regarded by some as a prototype of constitutional devolution which might be applied to other parts of the United Kingdom. In our constitutional history we trace from early times the establishment of a strong central government which has reached its culmination in the democratic parliament of King, Lords and Commons at Westminster. The final establishment of parliamentary supremacy at the revolution of 1688 was succeeded by a development of local, county and municipal government which proceeded at a great pace in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Now in Northern Ireland we find added a third type of representative government, the provincial legislature which divides with the Westminster parliament the main legislative responsibilities though occupying a somewhat subordinate position.

Even after thirty years from the establishment of the Northern Ireland parliament and government it is not possible to assess the full implications of this new development. To some it may seem a step towards the perfect democratisation of government by providing the subject with one more popularly elected body in which he can make his voice felt. Some may regard it as a happy way of combating the over-centralisation of power in Westminster and Whitehall. There are critics who believe that it has in fact rendered possible the creation of a fascist State within the framework of a democratic State. And there are others who are convinced that the implications are in fact slight and the changes effected of no real importance.

The purpose of this chapter is first to describe the circumstances which led to this particular experiment in devolution being carried through in Northern Ireland in 1920. We shall see that the experiment was not the fruit of long deliberation but was thrust upon us as a result of violent political events, and has subsequently been carried through in an area where the temper of political passions is unlike anything known in England or Scotland. We shall then examine in outline the structure and

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