The ‘Sunningdale experiment’ of 1973-74 witnessed the first attempt at establishing peace in Northern Ireland based on power-sharing. However, its provisions, particularly the cross-border ‘Council of Ireland’, proved to be a step too far. The experiment floundered amidst ongoing paramilitary-led violence and collapsed in May 1974 as a result of the Ulster Workers’ Council Strike. Yet, many of the ideas first articulated in this period would resonate in later attempts to cultivate peace and foster a democratic. This collection asks what became of those ideas and what lessons can we learn looking back on Sunningdale over forty years hence.

Drawing on a range of new scholarship from some of the key political historians working on the period, this book presents a series of reflections on how key protagonists struggled with ideas concerning ‘power-sharing’ and an ‘Irish dimension’ and how those struggles inhibited a deepening of democracy and the ending of violence for so long. The book will be essential reading for any student of the Northern Irish conflict and for readers with a general interest in the contemporary history of British-Irish governmental relations.

A step too far?

4 Sunningdale and the Irish dimension: a step too far? John Coakley Few episodes in the pursuit of a constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland have attracted as much academic controversy as the Sunningdale Agreement of December 1973 and its central institutional feature, the Council of Ireland. Analysts are divided as to its content (was it essentially the same as the later Good Friday Agreement of 1998, or was it radically different?), as to the motivations of the parties to it (did they see it as a final blueprint or as a step towards other ultimate goals

in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and the struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland

7 Sunningdale and the limits of ‘rejectionist’ Unionism Stuart Aveyard and Shaun McDaid To understand Sunningdale and its legacy it is necessary to grapple with divisions within Unionism, many of which preceded the Sunningdale Agreement. Divisions on power sharing crystallised between the publication of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals in March 1973 and the collapse of the power-sharing Executive at the hands of the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) in May 1974. Opposition to Sunningdale created shortlived unity among rival strands of rejectionist

in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and the struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland
The consequences of using force to combat terrorism in a liberal democrac

6 British security policy and the Sunningdale Agreement: the consequences of using force to combat terrorism in a liberal democracy1 Aaron Edwards Throughout these difficult years, it has always been said that a solution lay in a twopronged approach: a vigorous onslaught against the terrorists, coupled with political advance. That political advance will shortly be a reality. – Rt Hon Francis Pym MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, speaking after the Sunningdale Conference in December 1973 (House of Commons Debates (Hansard), 13 December 1973, Vol. 866

in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and the struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland

11 Cultural responses to and the legacies of Sunningdale Connal Parr The theatre represents what the director Mick Gordon calls a ‘safe thinking space’, where the mind intuits ‘no danger from the alternative actions, thoughts and feelings being presented’. While this is often cited as a weakness – because what the audience sees does not impact directly upon their lives – ‘It is precisely because theatre does not directly affect our normal lives that our minds allow us the thinking space to experience and consider the alternative stories and behaviours in front

in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and the struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland

10_Hume_175-192 4/5/10 15:22 Page 175 10 Sunningdale for slow learners Nearly four years passed between the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994 and the achievement of an actual peace agreement in April 1998. The road towards that agreement was understandably arduous:1 over a quarter century of violence had created severe distrust on both sides of the conflict. On one, unionists and the British government doubted the republican movement’s conversion to wholly peaceful methods, and so argued that the IRA should decommission its weapons before Sinn Féin was

in John Hume and the revision of Irish nationalism

3 The Sunningdale Council of Ireland During the 1972–75 period, the issue of cross-border co-operation in Ireland provoked much political debate. The Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 proposed a Council of Ireland comprising elected representatives from the Northern Ireland Assembly and Dáil Éireann. This Council was to have executive functions and to eventually administer certain public services in both jurisdictions in Ireland. It proved one of the most contentious issues during this time, and was strongly resisted by a large section of the unionist community

in Template for peace
An interview with Sean Donlon

to talk to various people there. Certainly he was my primary contact among SDLP people and it was John who suggested to me that after the Assembly elections we needed to go for power-sharing talks with North–South institutions and that somebody from Dublin had better start talking to the unionists. John Hume set up my very first meeting with Brian Faulkner and, accompanied by Dermot Nally from the Taioseach’s Office, we went to see him late September–early October 1973, just before Sunningdale. So the decision by

in Inside Accounts, Volume I

03_Hume_039-064 13/4/10 14:50 Page 39 3 Dublin is just a Sunningdale away The collapse of the Unionist government did not halt the SDLP’s drift to a more nationalist position. If anything, the political climate in Northern Ireland following Stormont’s suspension only led to a further greening of the party. A number of factors contributed to this. Firstly, the prorogation of Stormont had in itself created a sense of euphoria amongst the minority community. Not only did it bring an end to a regime that had come to be despised by even moderate nationalists

in John Hume and the revision of Irish nationalism
An interview with Noel Dorr

Graham Spencer: Can you provide some background to the talks and contacts that led to Sunningdale? Noel Dorr: Let me start by saying that when the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s both Governments reacted badly. The British Government more or less said it’s no business of the Irish Republic, which was an independent country, and the Irish Government tended to blame everything on partition. It took a few years for them to both understand the realities of Northern Ireland. There were

in Inside Accounts, Volume I