Conflict, Crisis and Collapse - May 1969 to March 1972

Part C:

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1. Context

On 28th April 1969 Terence O’Neill resigned as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. A few days later on 1st May 1969 he was replaced as Prime Minister by James Chichester Clark (his cousin). Chichester Clark promised to continue with the reform programme that had been started by O’Neill, but, despite his promises, tensions continued to increase by July 1969. However, it would be the events in Derry/Londonderry in August 1969 when clashes between the RUC and nationalists over a loyalist march led to violence and one more step towards the violence that was the troubles.

The Battle of the Bogside forced the British Government to intervene directly for the first time in N. Ireland. As the RUC were unable to deal with the mounting violence, British troops were sent to restore law and order on the streets of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. The Dublin Government had sent troops and even field hospitals to the border, promising to help protect nationalists from attack by loyalists. These short-term responses by the two governments in Dublin and London would have important consequences for the divided communities in N. Ireland by March 1972 in particular.

  • The re-emergence of the IRA in 1969
  • The IRA split and the emergence of the Provisional IRA by Easter 1970
  • The re-emergence of the UVF by 1969
  • The emergence of the UDA by September 1971

After August 1969, the political situation in N. Ireland steadily deteriorated and by July 1970 the Stormont Government appeared to have lost control of many areas that they claimed to govern. When the British Army imposed the Falls Road curfew in July 1970 this angered local nationalists, indeed this boosted support for the Provisional IRA in particular who started a violent campaign against the Army from 1970 onwards.

As the political crisis worsened loyalist paramilitaries launched their own campaign of violence. They were angry over what they saw as Stormont’s appeasement of the demands of NICRA, and they also promised to defend loyalists from the increased levels of republican violence. In December 1971, the UVF carried out the bombing of Mc Gurk’s Bar in Belfast. Although Stormont had banned both the Provisional IRA and the UVF, they did not ban the newly formed UDA which had over 30,000 members by 1972.

Stormont was unable to effectively deal with the deepening crisis and Chichester Clark was forced to resign as Prime Minister on 20th March 1971. He was quickly replaced by Brian Faulkner who became the new and last Prime Minister of N. Ireland. Despite having a new leader, the Stormont government could not stop republican and loyalist violence. Faulkner decided to use a policy that had worked well in previous periods of crisis which was internment. Without any warning on 9th August 1971 internment was introduced, 452 men were arrested and interned without trial, no loyalists were interned until 1973.

Opposition to internment from nationalists had important political effects by March 1972.

  • Violence escalated steadily after August 1971
  • Support for republican violence increased
  • Loyalist violence increased
  • Civil Rights marches against internment led to clashes and violence
  • Unionist and Nationalist responses to Bloody Sunday