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Government of Ireland Act

Government of Ireland Act

23 December 1920

In the midst of the war of independence between 1919 and 1921, the British government carried into law at Westminster in London the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. Its provisions with respect to the setting up of a Home Rule parliament in southern Ireland were essentially ignored by the revolutionary nationalists, but northern unionists proceeded to implement its provisions in the Six Counties by setting up a legislature and an executive government there. For decades afterward Protestants completely dominated these governmental institutions in Northern Ireland.

SEE ALSO Politics: 1800 to 1921—Challenges to the Union; Sinn Féin Movement and Party to 1922; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921

AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR THE BETTER GOVERNMENT OF IRELAND . . .

Be it enacted by the king's most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows: Establishment of parliaments for Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland and a Council of Ireland.

1. (1) On and after the appointed day there shall be established for Southern Ireland a parliament to be called the parliament of Southern Ireland consisting of his majesty, the Senate of Southern Ireland, and the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, and there shall be established for Northern Ireland a parliament to be called the parliament of Northern Ireland consisting of his majesty, the Senate of Northern Ireland, and the House of Commons of Northern Ireland.

(2) For the purpose of this act, Northern Ireland shall consist of the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry, and Southern Ireland shall consist of so much of Ireland as is not comprised within the said parliamentary counties and boroughs.

2. (1) With a view to eventual establishment of a parliament for the whole of Ireland, and to bringing about harmonious action between the parliaments and governments of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, and to the promotion of mutual intercourse and uniformity in relation to matters affecting the whole of Ireland, and to providing for the administration of services which the two parliaments mutually agree should be administered uniformly throughout the whole of Ireland, or which by virtue of this act are to be so administered, there shall be constituted, as soon as may be after the appointed day, a council to be called the Council of Ireland.

(2) Subject as hereinafter provided, the Council of Ireland shall consist of a person nominated by the lord lieutenant acting in accordance with instructions from his majesty, who shall be president, and forty other persons, of whom seven shall be members of the Senate of Southern Ireland, thirteen shall be members of the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, seven shall be members of the Senate of Northern Ireland, and thirteen shall be members of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland.

The members of the Council of Ireland shall be elected in each case by the members of that house of the parliament of Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland of which they are members. The election of members of the Council of Ireland shall be the first business of the Senates and Houses of Commons of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A member of the council shall, on ceasing to be a member of that house of the parliament of Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland by which he was elected a member of the council, cease to be a member of the council: provided that, on the dissolution of the parliament of Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland, the persons who are members of the council elected by either house of that parliament shall continue to hold office as members of the council until the date of the first meeting of the new parliament and shall then retire unless re-elected.

The president of the council shall preside at each meeting of the council at which he is present and shall be entitled to vote in case of an equality of votes, but not otherwise.

The first meeting of the council shall be held at such time and place as may be appointed by the lord lieutenant.

The council may act notwithstanding a vacancy in their number, and the quorum of the council shall be fifteen; subject to aforesaid, the council may regulate their own procedure, including the delegation of powers to committees.

(3) The constitution of the Council of Ireland may from time to time be varied by identical acts passed by the parliament of Southern Ireland and the parliament of Northern Ireland, and the acts may provide for all or any of the members of the Council of Ireland being elected by parliamentary electors, and determine the constituencies by which the several elective members are to be returned and the number of the members to be returned by the several constituencies and the method of election.

Power to Establish a Parliament for the Whole of Ireland

3. (1) The parliaments of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland may, by identical acts agreed to by an absolute majority of members of the House of Commons of each parliament at the third reading (hereinafter referred to as constituent acts), establish, in lieu of the Council of Ireland, a parliament for the whole of Ireland consisting of his majesty and two houses (which shall be called and known as the parliament of Ireland), and may determine the number of members thereof and the manner in which the members are to be appointed or elected, and the constituencies of which the several elective members are to be returned, and the number of members to be returned by the several constituencies, and the method of appointment or election, and the relations of the two houses to one another; and the date at which the parliament of Ireland is established is hereinafter referred to as the date of Irish union:

Provided that the bill for a constituent act shall not be introduced except upon a resolution passed at a previous meeting of the house in which the bill is to be introduced.

(2) On the date of Irish union the Council of Ireland shall cease to exist, and there shall be transferred to the parliament and government of Ireland all powers then exercisable by the Council of Ireland, and (except so far as the constituent acts otherwise provide) the matters which under this act cease to be reserved matters at the date of Irish union, and any other powers for the joint exercise of which by the parliament or governments of Southern and Northern Ireland provision has been made under this act.

(3) There should also be transferred to the parliament and government of Ireland, except so far as the constituent acts otherwise provide, all the powers and duties of the parliaments and governments of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, including all powers as to taxation, and unless any powers and duties are retained by the parliaments and governments of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland under the constituent acts, those parliaments and governments shall cease to exist:

Provided that if any powers and duties are so retained, the constituent acts shall make provision with respect to the financial relations between the exchequers of Southern and Northern Ireland on the one hand and the Irish exchequer on the other.

(4) If by the constituent acts any powers and duties are so retained as aforesaid, the parliaments of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland may subsequently by identical acts transfer any of those powers and duties to the government and parliament of Ireland, and in the event of all such powers and duties being so transferred, the parliaments and governments of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland shall cease to exist.

Legislative Powers

4. (1) Subject to the provisions of this act, the parliament of Southern Ireland and the parliament of Northern Ireland shall respectively have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, with the following limitations, namely, that they shall not have power to make laws except in respect of matters exclusively relating to the portion of Ireland within their jurisdiction or some part thereof, and (without prejudice to that general limitation) that they shall not have power to make laws in respect of the following matters in particular, namely:—

  1. The Crown or the succession to the Crown, or a regency, or the property of the Crown (including foreshore vested in the Crown), or the lord lieutenant, except as respects the exercise of his executive power in relation to Irish services as defined for the purposes of this act; or
  2. The making of peace or war, or matters arising from a state of war; or the regulation of the conduct of any portion of his majesty's subjects during the existence of hostilities between foreign states with which his majesty is at peace, in relation to those hostilities; or
  3. The navy, the army, the air force, the territorial force, or any other naval, military, or air force, or the defence of the realm, or any other naval, military, or air force matter (including any pensions and allowances payable to persons who have been members of or in respect of service in any such force or their widows or dependants, and provision for the training, education, employment, and assistance for the reinstatement in civil life of persons who have ceased to be members of any such force); or
  4. Treaties, or any relations with foreign states, or relations with other parts of his majesty's dominions, or matters involving the contravention of treaties or agreements with foreign states or any part of his majesty's dominions, or offences connected with any such treaties or relations, or procedure connected with the extradition of criminals under any treaty, or the return of fugitive offenders from or to any part of his majesty's dominions; or
  5. Dignities or titles of honour; or
  6. Treason, treason felony, alienage, naturalisation, or aliens as such, or domicile; or
  7. Trade with any place out of the part of Ireland within their jurisdiction, except so far as trade may be affected by the exercise of the powers of taxation given to the said parliaments, or by regulations made for the sole purpose of preventing contagious disease, or by steps taken by means of inquiries or agencies out of the part of Ireland within their jurisdiction for the improvement of the trade of that part or for the protection of traders of that part from fraud; the granting of bounties on the export of goods; quarantine; navigation, including merchant shipping (except as respects inland waters, the regulation of harbours, and local health regulations); or
  8. Submarine cables; or
  9. Wireless telegraphy; or
  10. Aerial navigation; or
  11. Lighthouses, buoys, or beacons (except so far at they can consistently with any general act of the parliament of the United Kingdom be constructed or maintained by a local harbour authority); or
  12. Coinage; legal tender; negotiable instruments (including bank notes), except so far as negotiable instruments may be affected by the exercise of the powers of taxation given to the said parliaments; or any change in the standard of weights and measures; or
  13. Trade marks, designs, merchandise marks, copyright, or patent rights; or
  14. Any matter which by this act is declared to be a reserved matter, so long as it remains reserved. Any law made in contravention of the limitations imposed by this section shall, so far as it contravenes those limitations, be void.

(2) The limitation on the powers of the said parliaments to the making of laws with respect to matters exclusively relating to the portion of Ireland within their respective jurisdiction shall not be construed so as to prevent the said parliaments by identical legislation making laws respecting matters affecting both Southern and Northern Ireland.

5. (1) In the exercise of their power to make laws under this act, neither the parliament of Southern Ireland nor the parliament of Northern Ireland shall make a law so either directly or indirectly to establish or endow any religion, or prohibit or restrict the free exercise thereof, or give a preference, privilege, or advantage, or impose any disability or disadvantage, on account of religious belief or religious or ecclesiastical status, or make any religious belief or religious ceremony a condition of the validity of any marriage, or affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending the religious instruction at the school, or alter the constitution of any religious body except where the alteration is approved on behalf of the religious body by the governing body thereof, or divert from any religious denomination the fabric of cathedral churches, or, except for the purpose of roads, railways, lighting, water, or drainage works, or other works of public utility upon payment of compensation, any other property, or take any property without compensation. Any law made in contravention of the restrictions imposed by this subsection shall, so far as it contravenes those restrictions, be void.

(2) Any existing enactment by which any penalty, disadvantage, or disability is imposed on account of religious belief or on a member of any religious order as such shall, as from the appointed day, cease to have effect in Ireland.

6. (1) Neither the parliament of Southern Ireland nor the parliament of Northern Ireland shall have power to repeal or alter any provision of this act (except as is specially provided by this act), or of any act passed by the parliament of the United Kingdom after the appointed day and extending to the part of Ireland within their jurisdiction, although that provision deals with a matter with respect to which the parliaments have power to make laws.

(2) Where any act of the parliament of Southern Ireland or the parliament of Northern Ireland deals with any matter with respect to which that parliament has power to make laws which is dealt with by any act of the parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the appointed day and extending to the part of Ireland within its jurisdiction, the act of the parliament of Southern Ireland or the parliament of Northern Ireland shall be read subject to the act of the parliament of the United Kingdom, and so far as it is repugnant to that act, but no further, shall be void.

(3) Any order, rule, or regulation made in pursuance of, or having the force of, an act of parliament of the United Kingdom shall be deemed to be a provision of an act within the meaning of this section.

7. (1) The Council of Ireland shall have power to make orders with respect to matters affecting interests both in Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, in any case where the matter—

  • (a) is of such a nature that if it had affected interests in one of those areas only, it would have been within the powers of the parliament for that area; and
  • (b) is a matter to affect which, it would, apart from this provision, have been necessary to apply to the parliament of the United Kingdom by petition for leave to bring in a private bill.

(2) The provisions contained in the first schedule to this act shall have effect with respect to the procedure for making such orders.

(3) Any order so made by the Council of Ireland under this section shall be presented to the lord lieutenant for his majesty's assent, in like manner as a bill passed by the Senate and House of Commons of Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland, and on such assent being given, the order shall have effect in Southern and Northern Ireland respectively, as if enacted by the parliament of Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland, as the case may be.

Executive Authority

8. (1) The executive power in Southern Ireland and in Northern Ireland shall continue vested in his majesty the king, and nothing in this act shall affect the exercise of that power. . . .

10 & 11 Geo. V, c. 67; reprinted in Irish Political Documents, 1916–1949, edited by Arthur Mitchell and Pádraig Ó Snodaigh (1989), pp. 91–96.

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