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Cover The Changing Constitution

9. Devolution in Northern Ireland  

Brice Dickson

Northern Ireland has had a devolved legislature and government, off and on, since 1921. This chapter first examines the nature of the devolution arrangements in place between 1921 and 1972 and then explains what was done to keep Northern Ireland running during the periods of direct rule from Westminster and Whitehall between 1972 and 1999 and between 2002 and 2007. The third section looks at how devolution operated under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement from 1999 to 2002 and from 2007 to 2017. The chapter then considers the reasons for the failure since 2017 to get devolution re-established and concludes by canvassing what the future constitutional arrangements for Northern Ireland might be. Taken in the round, Northern Ireland’s experience of devolution during the past 98 years has been very troubled. Brexit, alas, seems unlikely to make it less so in the years ahead.

Chapter

Cover The Changing Constitution

2. Parliamentary Sovereignty in a Changing Constitutional Landscape  

Mark Elliott

Parliamentary sovereignty is often presented as the central principle of the United Kingdom’s constitution. In this sense, it might be thought to be a constant: a fixed point onto which we can lock, even when the constitution is otherwise in a state of flux. That the constitution presently is—and has for some time been— in a state of flux is hard to dispute. Over the last half-century or so, a number of highly significant developments have occurred, including the UK’s joining— and now leaving—the European Union; the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998; the devolution of legislative and administrative authority to new institutions in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh; and the increasing prominence accorded by the courts to the common law as a repository of fundamental constitutional rights and values. Each of these developments raises important questions about the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. The question might be thought of in terms of the doctrine’s capacity to withstand, or accommodate, developments that may, at least at first glance, appear to be in tension with it. Such an analysis seems to follow naturally if we are wedded to an orthodox, and perhaps simplistic, account of parliamentary sovereignty, according to which the concept is understood in unyielding and absolutist terms: as something that is brittle, and which must either stand or fall in the face of changing circumstances. Viewed from a different angle, however, the developments of recent years and decades might be perceived as an opportunity to think about parliamentary sovereignty in a different, and arguably more useful, way—by considering how the implications of this still-central concept are being shaped by the changing nature of the constitutional landscape within which it sits. That is the task with which this chapter is concerned.