Direct rule was the term given, during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, to the administration of Northern Ireland directly from Westminster, seat of United Kingdom government. The most recent bout of direct rule came to an end on 8 May 2007 when power was restored to the Northern Ireland Assembly following April elections and a power-sharing agreement among major parties.
Although day-to-day matters under direct rule were handled by government departments within Northern Ireland itself, major policy was determined by the British Government's Northern Ireland Office, under the direction of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; and legislation was introduced, amended, or repealed by means of order in council (effectively, rule by decree). Direct Rule did not mean that the people of Northern Ireland had no democratic say in how they were governed; like other parts of the United Kingdom they elected (and still elect) members of parliament to the Parliament of the United Kingdom to which the Northern Ireland Office is responsible. But it did result in the existence of an administration specific to Northern Ireland which did not have a specifically Northern Irish mandate.
The most recent system of Direct rule was originally introduced on March 28 1973 under the terms of the UK's Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1973, which also suspended the Parliament of Northern Ireland ("Stormont").
The British Government sought to establish a Northern Ireland Assembly in 1974 (under the Sunningdale Agreement; this was brought down by Unionist action), in 1983 (this time boycotted by Nationalists), and more recently under the terms of the Belfast Agreement of 1999. Each time, the intention in principle was that the Assembly would take over the political governance of Northern Ireland, and that direct rule would thus come to an end. The results of the Good Friday Agreement were the most successful at achieving this; however, the Assembly was nevertheless suspended (and direct rule re-imposed) for over three months in 2001, twice briefly in 2002, and again from 2003 until the spring of 2012.
Both unionists and nationalists frequently objected to direct rule, since the system gives the people of Northern Ireland relatively little democratic say over their own governance. However, some unionists accepted and were content to go along with the system since it seemed to show the province as an integral part of the UK; while some nationalists accepted direct rule if only because they believed that politicians in London are less hostile to Northern Ireland's Catholic community than a government elected by the local Protestant majority.