The Troubles 1950s to 1970s

Terence O'Neill became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

1963 - 1976

1963. Terence O'Neill became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. He made some reforms: not enough for Catholics and too many for most Protestants

By the 1970s, Ireland was suffering poor living standards, growing unemployment and high Irish emigration to Britain and America. Sean Lemass, the new Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland) brought great energy to Ireland in the 1960s. However events in Northern Ireland were to dominate the political scene in Ireland for the next thirty years.

  • In 1968 Catholics were demanding equal rights with Protestants.
  • Protestant extremists and fervent Unionists were prepared to use violence to stop this.
  • Riots broke out in Londonderry (Derry) in 1968 and Belfast in 1969 as Catholics were attacked and driven from their homes.

'The Troubles'

British troops were brought in to restore order, but the conflict intensified as the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups carried out bombings and other acts of terrorism. This continuing conflict, which lingered into the 1990s, became known as 'The Troubles’.

Bloody Sunday 30 January 1972

During a march in Londonerry (Derry) by Northern Irish Catholics protesting against internment (imprisonment without trial), the British army opened fire on the marchers, killing 13 demonstrators. Journalists captured the event on film and the world was outraged.

  • On 2 February, outraged Irish citizens set the British Embassy on fire.
  • British Prime Minister Edward Heath abolished self-rule and introduced Direct Rule from London. He claimed the Unionists could no longer be trusted to run Northern Ireland.
  • A Secretary of State was introduced to govern Northern Ireland.

Consequences of Bloody Sunday 1972

  • In April 1972, the British government released a report clearing British troops of any illegal actions during the Derry protest.
  • Irish anger grew and Britain increased its military presence in the North while removing any trace of Northern self-rule.
  • On July 21, 1972, the IRA exploded around 21 bombs simultaneously in Belfast, killing British military personnel and a number of civilians.
  • The IRA moved its bombing campaign to mainland Britain.
  • British and Irish governments tried to find a solution to stop the violence. In December 1973, the Sunningdale Agreement was signed to allow a new power sharing government to rule Northern Ireland.

On January 1, 1974 this new government took office. The Unionists refused to recognise it and called on all Protestants to join a General Strike. By May, the new government collapsed and Direct Rule was restored.

Direct rule returns to Northern Ireland