Northern Ireland

Former Stormont minister Bill Craig dies

The former Stormont Home Affairs minister Bill Craig has died at the age of 86.

He was best known for forming the Unionist Vanguard movement, which advocated a semi-independent Northern Ireland and opposed the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement.

First Minister Peter Robinson has said he was "saddened" to hear of Mr Craig's death.

He said he was a "committed unionist who cared deeply about NI".

Bill Craig was born in Cookstown in 1924 and became a solicitor after he served with the RAF in World War II.

He was instrumental in selecting Terence O'Neill as Prime Minister in 1963 and was made Minister of Home Affairs.

Craig also held the Health and Local Government portfolio and served at the Ministry of Development.

O'Neill was to sack Craig from the cabinet claiming he had been attracted to ideas of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

Craig later attacked his former ally from the back benches and condemned the security policies of his successors, James Chichester-Clarke and Brian Faulkner.

He led the Ulster Loyalist Association from 1969 to 1972 and said he believed force might have to be used to achieve normality.

Craig then formed Vanguard, opposing the suspension of Stormont and direct rule.

He organised a 48-hour loyalist strike against the suspension and spoke at massive rallies.

Craig was also to the forefront in planning the 1974 Ulster Workers Council Strike that brought down the power-sharing executive formed after the Sunningdale deal.

However, he later backed the idea of a voluntary coalition to include the SDLP, for a limited period, which lost him unionist support. Vanguard split and he rejoined the Ulster Unionists.

Craig had been elected to Westminster in 1974 as a Vanguard candidate, but five years later he lost his east Belfast seat to Peter Robinson of the DUP.

He did not get elected to the 1982 assembly and his period at the forefront of Northern Ireland politics was ending.

Former Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside, who was a press officer with Vanguard, said Craig was "one of the big figures in Ulster Unionist politics".

"He took a hardline in the defence of Stormont, he was a minister of Home Affairs at the beginning of the Troubles when riots and civil disturbances broke out in Derry," he said.

"He formed Vanguard and wanted to create an umbrella movement for the unionist and loyalist population."

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