This article reconstructs British constitutional policy in Northern Ireland after power-sharing collapsed in May 1974. Over the following two years, the British government publicly emphasised that Northern Ireland would decide its own future, but ministers secretly considered a range of options including withdrawal, integration and Dominion status. These discussions have been fundamentally misunderstood by previous authors, and this article shows that Harold Wilson did not seriously advocate withdrawal nor was policy as inconsistent as argued elsewhere. An historical approach, drawing from recently released archival material, shows that consociationalists such as Brendan O'Leary and Michael Kerr have neglected the proper context of government policy because of their commitment to a particular form of government, failing to recognise the constraints under which ministers operated. The British government remained committed to an internal devolved settlement including both communities but was unable to impose one.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Political Science and International Relations
- Safety Research
- Cultural Studies