Agreement reached at Sunningdale to establish a power sharing executive in Northern Ireland and a cross border Council of Ireland.

In seeking a political solution to end the violence in Northern Ireland a belief grew that if both the Nationalist and Unionist communities could be represented in a power sharing government, then the interests of all the people could be addressed in an inclusive way.

The British government published two White Papers in the spring of 1973 which proposed devolved power sharing in Northern Ireland, and the creation of an assembly at Stormont.  Elections using the proportional representation system took place in June, and the Northern Ireland Assembly Executive met on 31 July. 

Tripartite talks between Northern Ireland, Irish and British political representatives took place in December in Sunningdale Park, Berkshire, to try to resolve difficulties that remained around setting up of a power sharing government.  Agreement was reached on Sunday 9 December, and the Sunningdale Agreement was signed.  

According to Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave,

There are no winners and no losers here at Sunningdale today.

In signing the agreement, the Irish government fully accepted and declared that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland want to change that status.  

The British Government declared that it was, and will remain, their policy to support the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. The current status of Northern Ireland is that it is part of the United Kingdom. If in the future the majority in Northern Ireland were to indicate a wish to become part of a united Ireland, that wish would be supported by the British Government.

It was agreed that a Council of Ireland will be formed so that the Republic of Ireland would have jurisdiction regarding issues of joint concern with the North.  

A Council of Ministers will also be set up, consisting of seven members from the Northern Ireland Executive and seven from the Irish government.  

A Consultative Assembly would come into existence.  Comprising of thirty members from the Northern Ireland Assembly and thirty from Dáil Éireann, it will have advisory and review functions.

In his statement to the press on the Sunningdale Agreement Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave welcomed the formation of the Council of Ireland. In his opinion, it will

Promote and encourage the growth of consensus politics throughout Ireland, and the eventual elimination of violence.

Brian Faulkner, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader, acknowledges the huge effort which has been put into the process by the Northern Ireland parties, and the Irish and British Governments at Sunningdale,

I think it’s quite historic that these people have sat down together, and have arrived at an agreement, which I believe heralds quite frankly a new dawn not just for Northern Ireland, but for the whole of Ireland.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader Gerry Fitt pays tribute to Brian Faulkner’s commitment to the process, 

This was a mammoth undertaking on his behalf, because his predecessors had maintained an absolutely static and rigid stance throughout all the years of their premierships.

Oliver Napier of the Alliance Party believes that the declarations set forth in the Sunningdale Agreement will benefit all on the island of Ireland, because now

There is an enormous ability between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to cooperate together in understanding and respect for the future benefit in economic social and other fields of all the people of Northern Ireland.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 10 December 1973.