Tuaisceart Éireann
Norlin Airlann

Northern Ireland

Constituent country of ‌United Kingdom
Flag of the United Kingdom Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom
Map of Northern Ireland
Government Devolved constituent country and consociational democracy
- From 1972Elizabeth II
First Minister
- From 2008Peter Robinson
Deputy First Minister
- From 2007Martin McGuinness
Legislature Northern Ireland Assembly
May 3, 1921 Government of Ireland Act
March 30, 1972Temporary Provisions Act
July 18, 1973Northern Ireland Constitution Act
December 9, 1973Sunningdale Agreement
April 10, 1998Belfast Agreement
July 1, 1998Northern Ireland Assembly
Area13,843 km²
- 20011,685,267
GDP2001 (PPP)
- TotalUS$ 48 billion
- Per capitaUS$ 28,500
CurrencyPound sterling
Ulster banner Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is a constituent country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Until March 30, 1972 Northern Ireland enjoyed extensive autonomy within the United Kingdom with political institutions that were based on the principle of majority rule.

Following the Northern Ireland Constitution Act on July 18, 1973 there was an attempt to introduce a new set of consensus based political institutions with a Northern Ireland Assembly instead of the previous Parliament of Northern Ireland. The assembly was suspended in 1974 and political power reverted to the government in London. There was another attempt to reopen the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982, but in 1986 it was suspended again.

Following the Belfast Agreement on April 10, 1998 there has been a renewed effort to run the political institutions and the Northern Ireland Assembly based on a consociataional framework. Despite several suspensions there is a government lead by a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister.

Also Scotland and Wales has their own regional legislatures but England is ruled directly by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the government in London.

Government Edit

The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. The equivalent body of law is based on statute, common law, and "traditional rights." Changes may come about formally through new acts of Parliament, informally through the acceptance of new practices and usage, or by judicial precedents. Although Parliament has the theoretical power to make or repeal any law, in actual practice the weight of 700 years of tradition restrains arbitrary actions.

Executive power rests nominally with the monarch but actually is exercised by a committee of ministers (cabinet) traditionally selected from among the members of the House of Commons and, to a lesser extent, the House of Lords. The prime minister is normally the leader of the largest party in the Commons, and the government is dependent on its support.

Parliament represents the entire country. It legislates for the entire country in matters that are not devolved to the legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, such as foreign policy, energy policy, immigration and border control, and monetary policy. The devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have varying degrees of legislative authority over other matters. England does not have its own separate legislative body and Parliament can therefore legislate in all fields for England.

Northern Ireland had its own Parliament and prime minister from 1921 to 1973, when the British Government imposed direct rule in order to deal with the deteriorating political and security situation. From 1973, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, based in London, was responsible for the region, including efforts to resolve the issues that lay behind the "the troubles." By the mid-1990s, gestures toward peace encouraged by successive British and Irish governments and by President Bill Clinton began to open the door for restored local government in Northern Ireland. A Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) cease-fire and nearly 2 years of multiparty negotiations, led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, resulted in the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) of April 10, 1998, which was subsequently approved by majorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Key elements of the agreement include devolved government, a commitment of the parties to work toward "total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations," police reform, and enhanced mechanisms to guarantee human rights and equal opportunity. The Good Friday Agreement (|) also called for formal cooperation between the Northern Ireland institutions and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, and it established the British-Irish Council (|), which includes representatives of the British and Irish Governments as well as the devolved Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Devolved government was reestablished in Northern Ireland in December 1999, although certain key functions, such as policing and justice powers, remained under Westminster control.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for a 108-member elected Assembly, overseen by a 12-minister Executive Committee (cabinet) in which unionists and nationalists share leadership responsibility. Northern Ireland elects 18 representatives to the Westminster Parliament in London. However, the five Sinn Fein members of Parliament, who won seats in the last election, follow an abstentionist policy in which they refuse to take their seats, although they do maintain offices and perform constituency services. Progress has been made on each of the key elements of the Good Friday Agreement. Most notably, a new, more-representative police service has been instituted, and PIRA and the other main republican and loyalist paramilitary groups have decommissioned their weapons. However, a small number of splinter republican groups continue to oppose the peace process and engage in violence, particularly against the police, U.K. military, and the justice sector. Disagreements over the implementation of elements of the agreement and allegations about PIRA's continued engagement in paramilitary activity troubled the peace process for several years. In October 2002, Northern Ireland's devolved institutions were suspended amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at Stormont, the seat of Northern Ireland's government. Assembly elections scheduled for May 2003 were postponed. Elections were held in November 2003, but the Assembly remained suspended. Finally, in 2007, the parties signed the St. Andrews Agreement, which paved the way for the Northern Ireland Government to stand up and for the devolution of powers to Belfast to occur. Responsibility for police and justice issues in Northern Ireland were the last component of devolution to take place; the transfer of these powers from London to Belfast occurred on April 12, 2010, having been provided for by the signing of the Hillsborough Agreement on February 4, 2010. The United States remains firmly committed to the peace process in Northern Ireland and to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements, which it views as the best means to ensure lasting peace. The United States has condemned all acts of terrorism and violence, perpetrated by any group.[1]

Politics Edit

The major political parties in Northern Ireland are the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), and the Alliance Party. The UUP and SDLP are centrist Unionist and Nationalist parties, respectively, while Sinn Fein is strongly Republican and the DUP is strongly Unionist. The Alliance Party is the only non-sectarian party.

Since June 2008, Northern Ireland's First Minister has been DUP party leader Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister has been Martin McGuinness, who is a Sinn Féin member of the British Parliament and a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The DUP, UUP, Sinn Féin, and SDLP currently make up the power-sharing executive. The next Northern Ireland Assembly election will be held in May 2011.[2]

Good Friday Agreement Edit

The conflict in Northern Ireland stems from a history of British rule, historical animosity between Catholics and Protestants, and the various armed and political attempts to unite Northern Ireland with the rest of the island. "Nationalist" and "Republican" groups seek a united Ireland, while "Unionists" and "Loyalists" want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. After decades of violence by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, most notably the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), the British and Irish Governments negotiated a PIRA ceasefire in 1994, which was followed by the landmark Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The GFA established a power-sharing executive and assembly to serve as the devolved local government of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly has 108 elected members. The power-sharing executive is led by a first minister and deputy first minister, one each from the largest unionist and nationalist parties, and an 11-minister executive. The GFA also provided for both Ireland and the U.K. to accept that Northern Ireland could become part of Ireland if a majority (north and south) so voted in the future. The GFA provided a blueprint for "normalization," to include reduction in the numbers and role of armed forces, devolution of police and justice authorities, and guarantees of human rights and equal opportunity for all individuals. The agreement was approved in a 1998 referendum by 71% of Northern Ireland voters and 95% of Irish voters.[3]


  • Elizabeth II () (March 30, 1972 - )

First Minister

  • Peter Robinson () (June 5, 2008 - )

Deputy First Minister

  • Martin McGuinness () (May 8, 2007 - )


British Polities in Ireland


  1. The United States Department of State - Background Note: United Kingdom
  2. The United States Department of State - Background Note: Ireland
  3. The United States Department of State - Background Note: Ireland