Similar to the schism between the Old and Provisional IRA by the close of 1969, its political wing, Sinn Fein, found itself freeing itself from the Southern leadership at their Ard Fheis (party conference) after a decision was voted on – and passed – to abandon their long held, and firmly entrenched stance on ‘abstentionism’ (i.e. of not taking any seats won in the parliaments of Dublin, Belfast, and London – none of which the recognised as legal). The minority who left, mirroring the Provisional IRA, became know as the ‘Provisional Sinn Fein’, and despite ideological and political differences, it was the belief that those Republicans in the South has failed to act in defence of their brethren in the North during the 1969 riots.
On the 9th December 1973, the Sunningdale Agreement was signed. It was an attempt by the British Government, the Irish Government and the Northern Irish Government to provide an alternative approach to government in Northern Ireland that would also integrate Unionist, SDLP and other political parties into a power-sharing Executive. The result was significant opposition from Unionists – an escalation in violence during extended periods of civil unrest, as well as a co-ordinated strike – the Ulster Workers Council (UWC) Strike – perpetrated by Loyalists. In May 1974 the agreement collapsed and the British Government reintroduced Direct Rule on the 14th day of the UWC strike.
For the Unionist Government, the first of two General Elections that year (October would see the second; the February Election resulted in a hung parliament) was a test of the unpopular proposed power-sharing proposal known as the Sunningdale Agreement. In addition to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, in Britain Edward Heath’s Conservative Government had the additional pressures of a miners’ strike deep economic strife. And his hopes of a power-sharing Executive would be usurped by Unionist politicians and parties using the election to destroy his aims: anti-Sunningdale Unionists had captured control of the Ulster Unionist Party, Vanguard and Democratic Unionist Party resulting in them gaining 11 of the 12 possible seats; the SDLP, contending its first Westminster Election, returned Gerry Fitt to the remaining seat, West Belfast.
Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, paid a visit to Northern Ireland and said that there was no alternative to the Sunningdale Agreement. [Public Records 1974 – Released 1 January 2005: Note of the meeting between Harold Wilson and the Northern Ireland Executive which was held in Stormont Castle on 18 April 1974.]
The United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) held a three-day conference in Portrush, County Antrim. The conference was attended by representatives of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and also by Enoch Powell. The main focus of the conference is to agree a strategy for bringing about the end of the Executive. At the end of the conference (26 April 1974) the UUUC called for a Northern Ireland regional parliament in a federal United Kingdom (UK).
The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) issued a statement condemning the security situation in Northern Ireland and gave its support to the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) and the policy of opposing the Sunningdale Agreement.
Organised by the Ulster Defence Association, this general strike was a Loyalist protest at the Unionist Government’s plans to participate in the Sunningdale Agreement – a power- sharing opportunity that would see Unionist’s lose their monopoly in the Northern Ireland Government by adopting a new Executive. The UWC threatened, and carried out civil disobedience unless the proposal was abandoned. Tuesday 14th May 1974 marked the beginning of the Strike and would include regular power cuts across the province, as well as essential services being disrupted. Rioting ensued, the ‘Dublin and Monaghgan’ bombings took place, sectarian killings continued, and by Day 5, Merlyn Rees, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announced a State of Emergency. By Day 14, the Executive proposed by the Suningdale Agreement was dissolved and the British Government resumed Direct Rule in Northern Ireland.
By Day 14 of the UWC strike, the Executive proposed by the Suningdale Agreement was dissolved and the British Government resumed Direct Rule in Northern Ireland.
Thursday 10th October 1974. The United Unionist Council (UUUC) coalition secured 10 of the 12 Westminster Seats. Gerry Fitt (SDLP) held on to Belfast West, and Independent Nationalist, Frank McGuire, deposed the sitting Unionist, Harry West, in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. Fitt and McGuire’s positions would be instrumental in the fall of the Labour Party in 1979, resulting in the subsequent General Election that would see the Conservative Party come to power under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher.
The Campaign for Social Justice was established in 1964 by Patricia and Dr Conn McCluskey. The husband and wife were based in County Tyrone and were the founding fathers of the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland, as a response to the discrimination against the Nationalist Catholic communities in areas such as housing and employment.
After over 30 years of sectarian violence and political disagreements and stalemates, the Good Friday Agreement, facilitated by the U.S. senator George Mitchell, was signed on the 10th April 1998 by Prime Minister Tony Blair (UK Government), Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, (Irish Government) and representatives from the eight main political parties in Northern Ireland.
The agreement was approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on 22 May 1998. In Northern Ireland, voters were asked in the 1998 Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement referendum whether they supported the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters were asked whether they would allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes (Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland) to facilitate it. The people of both jurisdictions needed to approve the agreement in order to give effect to it.
The British–Irish Agreement came into force on 2 December 1999, and is the basis of the devolved, power-sharing government in at Stormont, Northern Ireland to this day.
The 1983 General Election saw Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party maintain power after a landslide win at the polls, and which witnessed the Labour experience its worst electoral performance in its history.
In Northern Ireland, despite the widening of electoral boundaries from 12 to 17 seats, the Nationalist parties lost Fermanagh & South Tyrone, holding only two of the 17 Westminster Seats: West Belfast and the newly-created Foyle.
In 1984, The Conservative Party Government was embroiled in the Miners’ Strike, which would last until the following year, and its leader, Margaret Thatcher, would remain firmly in the cross-hairs of the Irish Republican movement, as she maintained her immutable stance against conceding to any negotiations with the paramilitaries of Northern Ireland during the hunger strikes “an Irish folk memory. She will be remembered even when some of the hunger strikers are forgotten. All the 6- and 7-year olds have the memory of Thatcher in their heads” (Gerry Adams, February 1986).
Reconnaissance was conducted around Brighton, England in 1982 in preparation for an operation to coincide with the Conservative Party’s annual conference. Patrick Magee was a veteran, and on the 15th September 1984 he, under the nom de plume of Roy Walsh*, checked in at the Grand Hotel, Brighton room number 629. He stayed for three days, planting a thirty pound bomb behind a bath panel.
Fitted with an electronic timer, it detonated in the early hours of Friday 12th October, causing one of the hotel’s chimney stacks to plunge through twenty eight rooms below. Five people lost their lives that night; thirty others were injured: Norman Tebbit, The Conservative Party Chairman was buried under the rubble for hours, and his wife was permanently disabled.
Margaret Thatcher emerged unscathed, yet it proved once again, that the Provisional IRA had the ability to strike at the core of the British hierarchy in its own backyard, far removed from the bottles and bricks streets of Belfast, and was a resounding propaganda success.
Magee was later arrested with three others in Glasgow in June 1985 as part of an operation against a new Provisional IRA offensive aimed at targeting successive explosions in London and in a number of holiday resorts. 1985 would see the Anglo Irish Agreement, signed by the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and the Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, which was aimed to help bring about an end to The Troubles.*deliberately ‘cocking a snoop’ at the British, as this was the name of one of the members who had carried out the Old Bailey bombing in 1974 (Event Card #70), the first operation conducted by the IRA on the British mainland.
Friday 7th July 1972. London. Gerry Adams had been released from detention in order to attend the meeting, along with Martin McGuiness, Séamus Twomey, Seán MacStiofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Ivor Bell, all of whom were flown to London. The meeting took place at the Chelsea home of Mr Paul Channon, then Minister of State for the North. The talks inevitably failed: their demand for a United Ireland and complete withdrawal of British Forces from Northern Ireland being impossible from a British perspective. And the simultaneous ceasefire ended on the 9th July.
On Monday 10th July, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Willie Whitelaw, admitted to having met the IRA.
The Sunday Times, on the 3rd July 1966, coinciding with a royal visit to Northern Ireland, published the article ‘John Bull’s Political Slum’, criticising Britain’s failure to intervene in the gerrymandering of the political architecture of Northern Ireland, and the high levels of unemployment in Catholic communities.
This was against the backdrop of three recent killings carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force, which was led by Gusty Spence (and accomplice) who was later arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role.
Internment – Operation Demetrius – was reintroduced on Monday 9th August 1971, whereby British Forces arrested 342 individuals in mass arrests – the majority of whom were Catholic Nationalists – in a variety of raids, and held them for questioning in temporary camps.
17 people died over the following two days, 10 of whom were Catholics. Internment would last until 5th December 1975 but despite being introduced by Unionist politicians to address the chronic security issues, it led to increases in rioting and acted as a ‘recruiting sergeant’ for the IRA.
In retrospect, many military officials regret the introduction of this measure, admitting that very little intelligence gains were made.