Sunningdale and the Irish dimension
A step too far?
in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and the struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland
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At least in theory, the Sunningdale agreement of 1973 represented a high point, if not the high point, in institutionalising the relationship between the two parts of Ireland that had been ruptured in 1921. The planned Council of Ireland, incorporating a Council of Ministers and a Consultative Assembly, represented both an echo of the first Council of Ireland of the 1920s and a precursor of the North-South Ministerial Council of 1998. There were important respects in which the image of the Council represented the Achilles heel of the 1973 agreement: it provided a focal point for unionist anger, which was mobilised effectively to bring the whole agreement down. This paper looks at the significance of the Council of Ireland as a mechanism for reducing the negative consequences of the partition of Ireland, setting it in historical context. It explores changing attitudes towards institutions of this kind, viewed as a threat to their position in the United Kingdom by many unionists, as a “sell-out” that recognises partition by traditional nationalists, and as a sensible functional compromise by pragmatists on both sides.


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