Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention

Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention
Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention

1973 ←
1 May 1975
→ 1982

All 78 seats to the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention
40 seats were needed for a majority
  First party Second party Third party
  Replace this image male.svg Replace this image male.svg Ian Paisley - (cropped).png
Leader Harry West Gerry Fitt Ian Paisley
Party Ulster Unionist SDLP Democratic Unionist
Leader since 22 January 1974 21 August 1970 30 September 1971
Leader's seat Fermanagh and South Tyrone Belfast North North Antrim
Last election 31 seats (35.8%) 19 seats (22.1%) 8 seats (10.8%)
Seats won 19 17 12
Seat change decrease 12 decrease 2 increase 4
Popular vote 167,214 156,049 97,073
Percentage 25.4% 23.7% 14.8%
Swing decrease 10.4% increase 1.6% increase 4.5%

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
  Replace this image male.svg Replace this image male.svg Replace this image male.svg
Leader William Craig Oliver Napier Brian Faulkner
Party Vanguard Alliance Unionist Party NI
Leader since 9 February 1972 1972 4 September 1974
Leader's seat Belfast East Belfast East South Down
Last election 7 seats (11.5%) 8 seats (9.2%) N/A
Seats won 14 8 5
Seat change increase 7 steady 0 increase 5
Popular vote 83,507 64,657 50,891
Percentage 12.7% 9.8% 7.7%
Swing increase 1.2% decrease 0.5% increase 7.7%

Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention 1975.png

Percentage of seats gained by each of the party.

Chief Executive before election

Brian Faulkner

Elected Chief Executive


Northern Ireland 1973–98

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
Northern Ireland

Interim bodies
Northern Ireland Assembly (1973)
Northern Ireland Executive (1974)
Constitutional Convention (1975)
Northern Ireland Assembly (1982)
Northern Ireland Forum (1996)
1973 · 1975 · 1982 · 1996
1973 · 1975 · 1982 · 1996
See also
Anglo-Irish Agreement
New Ireland Forum
Northern Ireland by-elections, 1986
Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum, 1973

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The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention (NICC) was an elected body set up in 1975 by the UK Labour government of Harold Wilson as an attempt to deal with constitutional issues surrounding the status of Northern Ireland.


Formation of the Constitutional Convention

The idea for a constitutional convention was first mooted by the Northern Ireland Office in its white paper The Northern Ireland Constitution, published on 4 July 1974.[1] The paper laid out plans for elections to a body which would seek agreement on a political settlement for Northern Ireland. The proposals became law with the enactment of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 later that month. With Lord Chief Justice Robert Lowry appointed to chair the new body, elections were announced for 1 May 1975.

The elections were held for the 78-member body using the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation in each of Northern Ireland's twelve Westminster constituencies. Initially the body was intended to be purely consultative, although it was hoped that executive and legislative functions could be devolved to the NICC once a cross-community agreement had been reached.


Unionists opposed to the NICC once again banded together under the umbrella of the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) and this coalition proved the most successful, taking 46 seats.

Party Leader Votes % Seats +/-
Ulster Unionist (UUUC) Harry West 167,214 25.4 19 +10
SDLP Gerry Fitt 156,049 23.7 17 −2
Democratic Unionist (UUUC) Ian Paisley 97,073 14.8 12 +4
Vanguard (UUUC) William Craig 83,507 12.7 14 +7
Alliance Oliver Napier 64,657 9.8 8 0
Unionist Party NI Brian Faulkner 50,891 7.7 5 −19
Republican Clubs Tomás Mac Giolla 14,515 2.2 0 0
Labour (NI) David Bleakley 9,102 1.4 1 0
Independent Loyalist (UUUC) N/A 5,687 0.9 1 +1
Independent Unionist N/A 4,453 0.6 1 −2
Ulster Unionist Party (non-UUUC) Harry West 2,583 0.4 0 N/A
Independent N/A 2,052 0.3 0 0
Communist Party Michael O'Riordan 378 0.1 0 0

Source: Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention Elections 1975

Votes summary

Popular vote
Total UUUC
Ulster Unionist (UUUC)*
Vanguard (UUUC)*
Republican Clubs
Ind. Loyalist (UUUC)*

Seats summary

Parliamentary seats
Total UUUC
Ulster Unionist (UUUC)*
Vanguard (UUUC)*
Ind. Loyalist (UUUC)*

Leading Members

A number of leading Northern Ireland politicians were elected to the NICC, increasing hope that the body might achieve some of its aims. Also elected were a number of younger figures who would go on to become leading figures in the future of Northern Ireland politics. These included:

Progress of the NICC

The elections left the body fundamentally weakened from its inception as an overall majority had been obtained by those Unionists who opposed power sharing as a concept. As a result the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention Report published on 20 November 1975[2] recommended only a return to majority rule as had previously existed under the old Parliament of Northern Ireland government. As such a solution was completely unacceptable to the nationalist parties, the NICC was placed on hiatus.

Hoping to gain something from the exercise, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees announced that the NICC would be reconvened on 3 February 1976. However, a series of meetings held between the UUUC and the SDLP failed to reach any agreement about SDLP participation in government, and so the reconvened NICC once again failed to achieve a solution with cross-community support. As a result, Rees announced the dissolution of the body on 4 March 1976 and Northern Ireland remained under direct rule.

Significance of the NICC

On the face of it, the NICC was a total failure as it did not achieve its aims of agreement between the two sides or of introducing 'rolling devolution' (gradual introduction of devolution as and when the parties involved saw fit to accept it). Nevertheless, coming as it did not long after the Conservative-sponsored Sunningdale Agreement, the NICC indicated that no British government would be prepared to re-introduce majority rule in Northern Ireland. During the debates William Craig accepted the possibility of power-sharing with the SDLP, a move that split the UUUC and precipitated the eventual collapse of Vanguard.

The idea of electing a consultative body to thrash out a deal for devolution was also retained and in 1996 it was revived when the Northern Ireland Forum was elected on largely the same lines and with the same overall purpose. Given that the Forum led to the Belfast Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly, the importance of the NICC as a model for this second body is clear.


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