Northern Ireland

Obituary of former Vanguard leader Bill Craig

Bill Craig was one of Northern Ireland's most controversial politicians who made his name as the hardline Ulster Vanguard leader.

While many of today's politicians moved from street politics to high office, Bill Craig moved the other way.

He was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, in 1924 and became a solicitor after he served with the RAF in World War II.

He was elected as Stormont MP for Larne in 1960 and was instrumental in selecting Terence O'Neill as Prime Minister in 1963.

Craig was made Minister of Home Affairs and also held the Health and Local Government portfolios as well as serving at the Ministry of Development.

He established the new city of Craigavon - a controversial move as the government was criticised for neglecting the nationalist west and the city of Londonderry.

As Minister for Home Affairs, Craig restricted a civil rights march in Duke Street, Derry, in October 1968 that led to bitter clashes between police and marchers whose number included Nationalist MPs.

The RUC used batons and water cannon on some of the protesters and scenes were transmitted on television across the world.

Soon after, Terence O'Neill sacked him from the Cabinet, claiming Mr Craig had been attracted by ideas of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence and that the concept of a "go it alone" Northern Ireland was a delusion.

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 considered the disbandment of the B Specials a major blunder.

Image caption At a rally in Ormeau Park in Belfast in 1972, Craig spoke about 'liquidating the enemy'

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

Then he 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.

In one such rally, in Belfast's Ormeau Park in March 1972, he famously spoke of "liquidating the enemy".

"We must build up the dossiers on the men and women who are a menace to this country, because one day, ladies and gentlemen, if the politicians fail, it will be our duty to liquidate the enemy," he said.

Assassination attempt

Later that year, he escaped an assassination attempt when gunmen fired at his car.

After the 1973 Assembly election, he returned to Stormont, attacking the Sunningdale Agreement and power-sharing and making Vanguard a political party.

Just months after taking his seat, he was to the forefront in planning the 1974 Ulster Workers Council Strike that brought down the Executive.

Later, in a surprise move, he backed the idea of a voluntary coalition to include the SDLP, for a limited period. That lost him unionist support, Vanguard split and he rejoined the Ulster Unionists.

Craig had been elected to Westminster in 1974 as a Vanguard candidate.

However in 1979, he lost his east Belfast seat to Peter Robinson of the DUP.

He did not get elected to the 1982 assembly and his political career was over.

Craig opposed the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and suggested force could be used to end it.

Looking back on his political career in his final television interview in 1999, he defended defying Westminster in the loyalist workers' strike.

"They had defied our wishes as the majority of the people," he said.

"The government was not loyal to the crown.

"The government compromised the crown."

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