Terence O’Neill

Terence O’Neill

Terence O'NeillTerence O’Neill became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1963. Aware of the tensions in the community, and also wanting to improve relations with the Republic, he attempted to bring in reforms that could encourage reconciliation. He wanted to do this partly through:

* Entering into dialogue with the Republic,

* Working with Catholic civil rights and community groups in Northern Ireland

* Attracting investment to Northern Ireland to make it more prosperous, believing that economic development would help reduce inequalities

* Changing the system of allocating housing to the poor and improving public services for all

* Modifying the Special Powers Act and revising the electoral system to make it fairer

In some areas, O’Neill was successful. He arranged for the Irish Taoiseach to visit Belfast in 1965, and also met Irish Catholic religious leaders. However, such meetings didn’t address day-to-day problems in Northern Ireland, which continued throughout his time in office in the form of street violence and repression of Catholic protests.

NICRA - History GCSE RevisionHowever, most Catholic politicians in Northern Ireland also seemed to be willing to work with O’Neill. In 1968, NICRA held demonstrations to call for greater civil rights. The protests were banned by the British Home Secretary, and were put down violently by the police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). However, by creating Five Point Reform Programme, which offered some important reforms in housing, policing and the voting system. In response, NICRA called off further demonstrations.

Losing Popular Support

Ian Paisley - History GCSE RevisionBut ultimately O’Neill’s ambitious plans were not realised. This was in part due to the fact that sections of the Unionist (protestant and pro-GB) community campaigned against O’Neill, and tried to undermine his efforts. Men such as Ian Paisley were adamant that no concessions should be made to the Catholic community in Northern Ireland or to the Irish Republic. Political decisions were made that angered local Catholics, such as the decision not to locate the new University of Ulster in the town of Derry because it had a large Nationalist (ie. pro-Irish Republic) population. Many Catholics were also disappointed with the Five Point Programme, believing it to be too limited.

O’Neill seemed to be losing popular support. And in April 1969 the Ulster Volunteer Force, a paramilitary group, bombed Belfast’s water supply installations. O’Neill resigned, ultimately having failed to stop escalating conflict and tensions.