Northern Ireland and Devolution

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have been separate legal jurisdictions since May 1921. Northern Ireland has also remained a separate jurisdiction from the rest of the United Kingdom under the Stormont Parliament 1921 to 1972, the direct rule periods (1972-1999)  and the Northern Ireland Assembly period interspersed with suspensions and direct rule. The most recent period of Assembly government has run since 2007, but its operation has been suspended since January 2017.

During all these periods, Northern Ireland (through the Parliament, Assembly or Northern Ireland Office) retained significant jurisdiction over its domestic laws in many areas. The matters of greatest significance from a border perspective, however, remain as UK competences.  They include customs and excise, trade, security and immigration.

Northern Ireland has significant competence in the area of the regulation of goods and services. However, in practice, there has been little divergent Northern Ireland legislation on goods standards. Agricultural standards are devolved matters and there is some divergence from UK standards.

Some services such as professional services are subject to domestic Northern Ireland legislation which differs somewhat from that in the rest of the United Kingdom (e.g. solicitors). Other professions are subject to UK wide regulation (Medical).

North-South Ministerial Council

The North-South Ministerial Council established under the Belfast Agreement meets in an appropriate format to consider international  cross-sectoral matters, including in relation to the EU and to resolve disagreement. It is suspended during the current (June 2018) suspension of the Assembly and other institutions.

The Council is to consider the European Union dimension of relevant matters, including the implementation of EU policies and programmes and proposals under consideration in the EU framework.  Arrangements are to be made to ensure that the views of the Council are taken into account and represented appropriately at the relevant EU meetings.

Strand 2 dealing with North-South co-operation and implementation may include relevant programmes such as INTERREG, Leader II, SPPR and their successors. Strand 3 dealing with Ireland-UK relationships states that suitable issues for discussion include the approaches to EU issues.

Belfast Agreement and Irish / Eu Citizenship

The British Irish Agreement(Belfast Agreement) recognises the birthright of all people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as British or Irish or both as they may choose and accordingly confirms that the right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

The people of Northern Ireland are defined as: all persons born in Northern Ireland and having, at the time of their birth, at least one parent who is a British citizen, an Irish citizen or is otherwise entitled to reside in Northern Ireland without any restriction on their period of residence. Accordingly, all persons born in Northern Ireland and entitled to reside permanently are entitled to dual British and Irish citizenship or exclusive British or Irish citizenship. Northern Ireland citizens may accordingly elect to be EU citizens and exercise EU rights.

The European Council has declared that in the event of a decision being made pursuant to the British Irish Agreement for Northern Ireland to become part of Ireland, that it would be entitled to automatic EU membership.

The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted in to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum. In the Miller case, the UK Supreme Court confirmed that Brexit (and by implication the future arrangements with the EU were exclusively UK matters and that devolved legislatures and institutions had no decisive role, unless afforded by the in the UK government or parliament.

Belfast Agreement and Human Rights

The Belfast Agreement refers to the European Convention on Human Rights which is cited as a safeguard to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully. It establishes “arrangements to provide that key decisions and legislation are proofed to ensure that they do not infringe on the Convention and any Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.”

The British government agreed to complete incorporation of into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights with direct access to the court and remedies for breach of the Convention including power for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on the ground of inconsistency.

The Good Friday Agreement provides for equivalence of human rights protection in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Human Rights Act was put into domestic law in Ireland in 2003 and The Human Rights Act 1998 took effect in that United Kingdom including Northern Ireland in 1998. In principle, the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to apply post-Brexit in the UK. It is not an EU convention. Questions have been raised of a substitute British Bill of Rights.

EU Support for NI Normalisation

The Good Friday Agreement has been supported by EU initiatives: The PEACE and INTERREG programmes support the continuance of cross-border and cross-community initiatives

The current cross-border EU funding programmes, PEACE IV, and INTERREG VA are the latest of a number of successive agreements over the last 20 years. The PEACE programme has contributed over €2.2 billion to the border region, of which €1.5 billion was contributed by the EU. The INTERREG programme has contributed €1.1 billion to projects with €810 million contributed by the EU. The value of the current programme, 2014 to 2020 is €270 million with a €229 million contribution by the European Union.

The PEACE IV programme and the INTERREG programmes contribute €283 million in the current seven-year cycle with €240 million provided by EU. The PEACE IV programme has four themes: shared education; children and young people; shared spaces; building positive relations at a regional level.

INTERREG is focused on four objectives in research and innovation. It includes environmental initiatives, water management, and sustainable transport. Environmental initiatives have pursued protections and objectives under EU legislation in the context of common  EU derived environmental legislation.

  • Northern Ireland is a significant beneficiary of EU funded programmes, including
  • the European Regional Development Fund, Investment for Growth and Jobs €308 million,
  • Northern Ireland European Social Fund programme €205 million,
  • PEACE IV RDF €229 million,
  • INTERREG VA Special EU Programmes Body (as above) €240 million,
  • Common Agricultural Policy: (Pillar I) €229 million.
  • Common Agricultural Policy: (Pillar II) €228 million,
  • European Maritime and Fisheries Fund €23 million,

Share this article