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1974 – Two General Elections

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.


Published by blueTanso

Secondary English Teacher

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