Thursday, December 3, 2009


Why did the Power-Sharing Executive collapse in May, 1974?

The main reason for the collapse of the Power-Sharing Executive (PSE) was that a clear majority of Unionists opposed the Agreement and supported the Ulster Workers Council (UWC) strike. Many of the strikers worked in electric power stations where the majority of workers were protestant. They called a strike on 15th May 1974. They cut electricity output and as a result people couldn’t cook, factories closed, sewage plants could not work and hospitals were threatened. The loyalist paramilitaries supported the strikers. They blocked roads and threatened workers who wanted to work. The RUC and army did not get involved. They did not believe it was there duty to stop a strike. Support for the strike grew stronger when PM Wilson accused the Northern Irish people of sponging off the British people. The Executive now feared a break-down in society so they resigned.

In Britain, PM Heath lost the general election and Wilson with a Labour government returned to power. Merlyn Rees was appointed Northern Ireland Secretary. He was a hesitant and indecisive man. He failed to order the British army to dismantle the barricades during the UWC strike. Many believed that Rees did not want to go against the majority of Protestants who opposed the PSE. Nationalists believed that his hesitation to act against the strike meant it was too late when it took off for earnest. He probably hesitated for the following three reasons: the general election had showed that a majority of Unionist opposed the Agreement. The army did not want to take on the Loyalists. Finally, the Agreement had been put in place by the Conservatives which meant the Labour party were less likely to be concerned about its fate.

Unionist opposition to the PSE was immense. The Ulster Unionist party had split between those Pledged to the White Paper who supported Faulkner and the Unpledged led by Harry West. Faulkner was forced into a resignation in January 1974 when his party called for a motion against the PSE. Harry West took over the leadership of the Party. Rev Ian Paisley was the founder of the DUP. He was extremely vocal about his opposition to the PSE. He made numerous demonstrations both within and outside Stormont to protest against it. The Vanguard was a group led by Craig who had split much earlier from the Ulster Unionist Party because of their discussions at Sunningdale with Nationalists. Followers of the Orange Order were also leading the anti-PSE move. These various Unionist groupings formed the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) to oppose the PSE in any way it could. They treated the general election like a referendum. They put forward anti-Agreement candidates in all 12 of the Northern Ireland constituencies. They won 11 seats. This result completely undermined the PSE. Paisley, Craig and West all won seats.

The Unionists feared the Council of Ireland would force them into a United Ireland. The Boland Case in Dublin compounded these fears as did talks of Irish re-unification in the South. The Council would have strong powers. It would include members of the Dail and the Assembly and deal with important issues like policing. Faulkner was promised that Cosgrave would acknowledge the right of Northern Ireland to exist as long as the Unionists wanted it (however the Boland Case had stopped this from happening). Faulkner was left with little room to manoeuvre. It proved just too difficult a concept to sell to the Unionist Community.

No comments:

Post a Comment