"History is past politics, and politics present history." John Robert Seeley

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see." Winston Churchill

"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." Aristotle


Politics & Society in Northern Ireland, 1949 – 1993

The three case studies in this module are:

The Apprentice Boys:

The Coleraine University Controversy:

The Sunningdale Agreement, 1973 – 1974:


Apprentice Boys of Derry

Coleraine Controversy

Power-Sharing Executive









The PowerPoint for this module is split into five parts:
  • Northern Ireland 1949 – 1963
  • Northern Ireland 1963 – 1969
  • Northern Ireland 1969 – 1979
  • Northern Ireland 1979 – 1985   N. Ireland 1979-1985
  • Northern Ireland 1985 – 1993

The period between 1949 (Declaration of Irish Republic), (Ireland Act, UK) and 1993 (Downing Street Declaration) was a period of extraordinary political, religious and social conflict, both within Northern Ireland itself and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Sir Basil Brooke


In 1949, the existence of the Northern Ireland state was seen through very different ‘lenses’ on both  sides of the Irish Sea. The British saw it as a de facto part of the UK, while in the Republic of Ireland, it remained a constant source of background rhetorical ideology. Since the 1920’s, it had not featured greatly in the ‘active’ policies of either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. It remained as a source of political differentiation; what one party ‘accepted’ i.e. Fine Gael, the other would never accept (Fianna Fáil), at least, rhetorically. Neither party seemed to have any clear or realistic strategy with regard to Northern Ireland’s minority Nationalist population.

However, the same could be said about the British Government. After the Declaration of the Irish Republic in 1949, the British Government moved to cement Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland with the introduction of the Ireland Act, (1949). Sir Basil Brookeborough led a Northern Ireland state which was resolutely conservative and Unionist-dominated. The existence of the Anti-Partition League, a broad nationalist movement, did little to either raise the profile of Nationalist/ Republican aspirations of unification nor did it do anything for Unionist distrust of both the Republic of Ireland and Nationalists within the Northern Ireland political spectrum.

O’Neill & Lemass


The make-or-break issue of simple ‘Majority Rule’ in Northern Ireland inevitably led to Unionist-dominated government, the social and political ramifications of this would inevitably spill over onto the streets. Discrimination in policing, housing and employment sowed a social seed of discontent within the Nationalist population. The almost-inevitable divisions in socio – economic policy, clearly shown in the Coleraine University Controversy led to the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1960’s. This in turn led to greater social conflict, and with the establishment of the Provisional IRA in 1969, the future looked bleak for stability within the Northern state. The appearance of the British Army on the streets of N. Ireland, the intransigence of‘Majority Rule’ Unionism and successive British Governments slow to involve the Republic and/or any Nationalist groups in an offical capacity fed the flames of increased extremism on the Nationalist/ Republican side.

Even apparent ‘deténte’ moves between the North & the Republic when Lemass & O’Neill met twice in Dublin & Belfast, did little to stem the inevitable ideological conflict between two political traditions whose mutual incompatibility was encapsulated in Articles 2 & 3 of Bunreacht na hEireann.

Bloody Sunday 1972


With the fall of the Stormont Parliament and the implementation of Direct Rule in 1972, the first tentative steps were taken, under the stewardship of N. Ireland’s first Secretary of State William Whitelaw, to try to resolve the imbalance in political representation. The Power-Sharing Executive made up of Brian Faulkner’s ‘Pledged’ UUP members, the SDLP & Alliance Party made up this first new form of representative government, though doomed as it was due to persistent, unified and widespread Unionist opposition in the form of the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) & the actions of a determined Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) Strike.

With the fall of the Power-Sharing Executive, Direct Rule was re-implemented and the North was run under the stewardship of various Secretaries of State. The ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’ (1974) introduced the concept of ‘Criminalisation’ of political prisoners e.g. IRA & UVF members. This change in status would propel the IRA Prisoners to mount a progressive campaign in the late 1970’s to achieve ‘Special Category Status’. Beginning with a ‘Blanket Protest’, escalating to the infamous ‘Dirty Protest’ and culminating in the Hunger Strikes of the early 1980’s, this conflict of ‘Status’ would become the most international of incidents with Bobby Sands & 13 other IRA Prisoners dying on Hunger Strike.

Roy Mason, as Secretary of State for N. Ireland, introduced and oversaw the policy of ‘Ulsterisation whereby British Army numbers in Northern Ireland were reduced and the local RUC & Security Forces were up-graded and strengthened. Though this would do much to improve the perception of a ‘stable’ Northern Ireland, coupled with ‘Criminalisation’, the short-term drop in terrorist killings & bombings would eventually lead to a sectarian-type conflict between the predominantly Protestant RUC & Catholic IRA. This would lead to the most bitter period of sectarian ‘tit-for-tat’ killings and an almost complete polarisation of the two communities in Northern Ireland.

1985 Agreement


With the international fallout from the Hunger Strikes, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was very much on the defensive with regard to Northern Ireland. After the New Ireland Forum conference in Dublin in 1984, attended by all Republic of Ireland political parties & Nationalist parties of N. Ireland, Margaret Thatcher firmly ruled out all of its proposals for a settlement. However, a year later, she did agree to the first bilateral agreement between the Republic of Ireland & the UK with regard to N. Ireland – Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985). For the first time, the Republic would have a say in N. Ireland policy and administration, though limited in its scope and ultimately subordinate to British authority. Unionist opposition to this agreement was broad and deep, with the UUP & DUP sharing a platform in opposition.

Throughout the 1980’s, IRA violence had continued, while the Republican Sinn Féin Party slowly evolved into a more pro-active political party. Their first involvement in the British Electoral process was the seminal election of Bobby Sands as an MP while on Hunger Strike in 1981. Towards the end of the decade, the leader of the SDLP, John Hume, began a controversial series of meetings and discussions with Gerry Adams to try to develop a more broad-based Nationalist/Republican approach to Northern Ireland. While Hume was heavily criticised in both the Republic of Ireland & the UK for these discussions, it is now widely regarded as being one of the most important steps in laying foundations for Republican support for a long-term peace process.

Downing St. Declaration


As a backdrop to the Hume-Adams talks, Ulster Loyalist & IRA violence continued in Northern Ireland. The IRA bombing of London’s Canary Wharf in the early 1990’s signalled a last ‘strategic’ attack on the heart of the British capital. With a view to consolidating Anglo-Irish consultation and co-operation, John Major (PM of UK) & Albert Reynolds (Taoiseach of ROI) together issued the Downing Street Declaration (1993) in which Britain declared that it had “…no strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland…”

The IRA declared a “cessation of operations” (ceasefire) in August 1994. Though this ceasefire would not last, it did provide the opportunity for all-party talks to commence over the next three years, as well as subsequent ceasefires by Loyalist Paramilitaries. The IRA would declare a complete ceasefire in 1997 and a year later in 1998 after very long and detailed negotiations, the Good Friday Agreement emerged with broad Nationalist/Republican as well as Unionist support. This agreement would be the foundation for police reform (RUC – PSNI), IRA decommissioning, power-sharing between Nationalists & Unionists as well as strengthened Anglo-Irish Relations & co-operation.

Video Clips:

The Good Friday Agreement

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