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Marc Mulholland, Oxford University
Northern Ireland, Oxford University Special Subject

Northern Ireland Special Subject, 1965 to 1985


Oxford, 2003 to 2004


Here is some information and notes for use in tutorials.

Essay Title One:
Were catholics disciminated against as catholics or as potential disloyalists? (Look at the period c. 1921 to 1969).
Come to my room (staircase 11, Room 1a, at the following times:
Tuesday 2nd Week:
11 a.m. - Rebecca Godar, David Perry, Patrick Forman
2 p.m. - Benedict Phillips, Richard Stebbings, Philip Day
4 p.m. - Rupert Abbot, Louise Radnofsky, Dominic Ruck Keene
Wednesday 2nd Week
Monday 2nd Week:
11 a.m.  -  Simon Lynch, Tobias Crump, Genevieve De La Bat Smit
Bring essays to the tute



Thursdays, 1st to  8th Week, 10 p.m., Modern History Faculty


The partition of Ireland

Stormonts record

Terence ONeill and reform unionism

The escalation into violence, 1969 72

Sunningdale and Ulsterisation

Nationalism and Republicanism

Unionism and loyalism

The Anglo-Irish Agreement




Essay titles will be set. These are issues you should bear in mind.




1.      How much discrimination was there under Stormont?


Questions to ponder:


Was discrimination directed against Catholicism as such or against a disloyal minority?


For arguments in favour of the former, note John D Brewer and Gareth I. Higgins, Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600 1998: The Mote and the Beam (London 1998).


Compare these quotes:


'Religious discrimination is deplorable but it is not indefensible . . . Employers and managements must be allowed to employ their own discretion when making the appointment even though their choice results in religious discrimination. The Apostolic injunction, 'Do good unto all men, especially those who are of the household of faith' suggests that we may sometimes discriminate in favour of those nearest ourselves.'

 Rev. E. J. Ferguson, "'Religious discrimination in Northern Ireland'", the Unionist, August 1967, cited in Marc Mulholland, Northern Ireland at the Crossroads: Ulster Unionism in the ONeill Years, 1960 9 (London, 2000).


'Basically the Partitionist fears the exclusiveness of Roman Catholicism, its claims to absolute truth and the consequences that seem to follow from that position. . . . [The] claims of the Catholic and his church make it difficult for them to be tolerant of what might be called liberal society -- the society which, for this discussion, maybe described as trying to make a distinction between the responsibilities of the Church, whether it be Roman Catholic or Protestant, and the State.'

Norman Gibson, Partition today -- a protestant view (Dublin, 1959) p. 7.


'Note Lord Brookeboroughs comment: My principal was always to be fair as far as you could, but you cant be entirely fair politically; theres always someone who gets a rough deal. You obviously cant take a man whos opposed to you politically and put him in a key position.'

Cited in W. H. Van Voris, Violence in Ulster: An Oral Documentary (Massachusetts, 1975).


Was the Government of Ireland Act an inappropriate constitutional document? Did it contain adequate safe-guards for the minority?


Note for example:


'5. - (1) In the exercise of their power to make laws under this Act neither the Parliament of Southern Ireland nor the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall make a law so as either directly or indirectly to establish or endow any religion, or prohibit or restrict the free exercise thereof, or give a preference, privilege, or advantage, or impose any disability or disadvantage, on account of religious belief or religious or ecclesiastical status, or make any religious belief or religious ceremony a condition of the validity of any marriage, or affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending the religious instruction at that school, or alter the constitution of any religious body except, where the alteration is approved on behalf of the religious body by the governing body thereof, or divert from any religious denomination the fabric of cathedral churches, or, except for the purpose of roads, railways, lighting, water, or drainage works, or other works of public utility upon payment of compensation, any other property, or take any property without compensation.'


Was it a mistake to grant Northern Ireland a devolved government?


Patrick Buckland, in his Factory of Grievances: Devolved Government in Northern Ireland 1921-39 (Dublin 1979), though is was a mistake. Why? For disagreement, see Derek Birrell and Alan Murie, Policy and Government in Northern Ireland: Lessons of Devolution (Dublin, 1980).


What impact did the Troubles of 1920 3 have on the future of Northern Ireland?  What about the evolution of politics in the Free State / Republic?


For different perspectives, see The Widening Gulf: Northern Attitudes to the Independent Irish State, 1919-49 (Belfast, 1988) and Eamon Phoenix, Northern Nationalism Nationalist Politics and the Catholic Minority in Northern Ireland 1890 1940 (Belfast, 1994).







2.      Terence ONeill and assimilatory Unionism


Essay Question: Was Terence O'Neill's principle legacy to split Unionism?


Questions to ponder:



Paul Bew, Henry Patterson and Peter Gibbon (Northern Ireland 1921-1994) emphasise Terence ONeills struggle against the Northern Ireland Labour Party. How important was this in shaping ONeills distinctive liberal Unionism?


What was liberal Unionism? Why does Andrew Gailey (Crying in the Wilderness: Jack Sayers 1939 69) see Ulster regionalism as important in liberal Unionism?


What difficulties did liberal unionists have in influencing the Ulster Unionist Party? (See Marc Mulhollands article on the Unionist Society in The best and most forward looking , Irish Historical Studies, no 129, May 2002).


Read ONeill's famous comment from 1969:

'It is frightfully hard to explain to Protestants that if you give Roman Catholics a good job and a good house. They will live like Protestants because they will see neighbours with cars and television sets; they will refuse to have eighteen children. But if a Roman Catholic is jobless, and lives in the most ghastly hovel, he will rear eighteen children on National Assistance. If you treat Roman Catholics with due consider and kindness, they will live like Protestants in spite of the authoritative nature of their Church . . .'


What does this say about his attitudes? Note the initiatives he launched; the Programme to Enlist the People (PEP) and Civic Weeks.


- What does Mulholland understand as assimilatory unionism? (See his 'Assimilation versus segregation: Unionist strategy in the 1960s', Twentieth Century British History, vol.ii, no.3 (2000). Is this a more or less useful term than liberal unionism?


Was Terence ONeill personally ill-equipped to deal with the situation in Northern Ireland? Note his rueful comment from April 1969:


'While good men sleep and honest men play their golf and their bridge, these others, with unwavering zeal, are chipping away at the foundations of our democracy.'


Consider Ian Paisleys importance. Note his rhetoric:


'Church leaders, apostates, blaspheming politicians, all attack the stand of the Free Presbyterian Church, posing themselves as the true Christians. This was the tactic of Rome burning the maryters in the name of Christ. Yes, and this is the tactic of the World Council ecumenicists of today. We have all suffered in this manner and will suffer more in the coming days.'


Did he enjoy influence because of, or in spite of, such rhetoric?


What was the nature of the civil rights movement? Was Bill Craig justified in seeing it as  Republican plot? Have a look at, Bob Purdie, 'Was the Civil Rights Movement a Republican/Communist Conspiracy?'. Irish Political Studies, 3, 1988. For another view, see Christopher Hewitt, 'Catholic Grievances, Catholic Nationalism and Violence in Northern Ireland during the Civil Rights Period: A Reconsideration'. British Journal of Sociology, 32, (1981).


Roy Bradford, a Unionist Minister, regretted '[t]he linking together, the lumping together of two separate and distinct issues - the social grievance which is real and largely affecting Catholics, and the political demand for changes in the franchise which has been largely whipped up and manufactured for party purposes.'


 How widely shared was this view? Did it inform British attitudes? Did it miss the point?


What was the dynamic of civil rights? Why was the movement not stilled by concessions? Consider the role of the civil rights factions (NICRA, Peoples Democracy, the Derry Labour Party, the Derry Citizens Action Committee), the government, the RUC, the Paisleyites, the British government? Might the movement have avoided a descent into violence?


Did the civil rights movement improve things for catholics? Why is it remembered by them as a period of such liberation?


Why did so many Unionists resent Terence ONeill so violently even after his disappearance from active politics?


Was this a revolutionary period? Think about how it compares with other periods of rapid transition from other historical periods you have studied.




3.      Northern Ireland approaches civil war


Questions to ponder:



Why was August 1969 such a turning point? Is it correct to say that Out of the Ashes of Bombay Street Rose the Provos? For differing views, see Niall O Dochartaigh, From Civil Rights to Armalites: Derry and the Birth of the Irish Troubles. (Cork, 1997) and Malachi ODohert, The Trouble with Guns: the Military Strategy of the Provisional IRA (Belfast, 1997). What was the social, political, even military impact of the population movements?


There was a substantial swathe of reforms following August, notably abolishing the B Specials and reforming the RUC. Why did these not satisfy catholic opinion? Did they, in fact, make matters worse?


Why the honeymoon period between catholics and the British Army end? Consider the opinion of an RUC officer:


'The worst thing the British government has ever done was to bring in the army. The IRA now has a classic, slow-moving target on their streets - the British army of occupation.'

(Desmond Hamill, Pig in the Middle, p 44).


Was there a realistic alternative?


Did the change of Government, from Labour to Conservative, in 1970 unleash the British Army? Did security policy take a wrong turn? Was it more heavy-handed than it need have been? Was Bloody Sunday a freak or the result of general security policy?


Why did the IRA adopt a strategy of moving from Defence to Defence / Retaliation to Offensive? Was this based upon a thought out strategy, or was it a response to events?


In February 1971 the Prime Minister of southern Ireland said:


'Lynch: I strongly condemn any group who advocate or use force whether it be for the reunification of our country or to maintain the status quo are believed the reunification will come about by peaceful means.'


 What was the attitude of southern society and government to nationalism in Northern Ireland?


Why was Stormont closed down. What was the reaction of the SDLP, the IRA, Bill Craigs loyalists, Faulkners unionists, the UDA? Why did Britain negotiate with the Provos in July 1972? What was the significance of Whitelaws subsequent statement (13 July 1972) that government was committed to a political reconciliation of the communities whether the extremists on either side like it or not.


John Darby wrote:
'It was as if the conflict had reached a peak around 1972, like 'the wall' in a marathon race, and subsequently settled down to 'an acceptable level of violence.' (Intimidation and the Control of  Conflict in Northern Ireland (1986)). Why do you think this was so?

Essay Question: Why were the constitutional parties unable to break the political impasse in the 1970s?


Thoughts to ponder:



You may, if you wish, choose to concentrate on either nationalism or unionism in this period. But make sure you first get an overview. Useful surveys include Richard Rose, Northern Ireland: A Time of Choice (London, 1976) and Ian McAllister, Territorial Differentiation and Party Development in Northern Ireland. In Contemporary Irish Studies, eds. James OConnell and Tom Gallagher (Manchester, 1983). Look also at the general overviews on the reading list. What does it mean to characterise parties as constitutional? Is it a misnomer?


British Policy

'It is a liberal illusion that negotiation is itself a form of therapy which will always prevail over the crude facts of power. 'Tom Utley in Lessons of Ulster (London, 1975).


Did the British government err in attempting to shore up moderates? What happened to the middle ground notably the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP), the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI) and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI)? Was the attempt to find a solution misconceived? Read through Michael Cunningham, British Government Policy in Northern Ireland, 1969 2000 (2001 edition). Did Britain give up on Northern Ireland by the late 1970s?



Why is Unionism so badly divided in the 1970s? Note the Ulster Unionist Party (itself divided between pro and anti-Faulknerites), Bill Craigs Vanguard and Paisleys DUP. Did this reflect fundamental cleavages within unionist identity? Have a look at D. W. Millers Queens Rebels: Ulster Loyalism in Historical Perspective (Dublin, 1978) and Colin Coulter, The Character of Unionism, Irish Political Studies 9 (1994).


Can we consider the wings of Unionism to be, in fact, complementary?



Why did the Ulster Unionist Party fragment from 1969? Look at John F. Harbinson, The Ulster Unionist Party 1882 1973 (Belfast, 1973) and David Hume, The Ulster Unionist Party 1972 92 (Lurgan, 1996). What role did Faulkner play? For a sympathetic account see David Bleakleys Faulkner: Conflict and Consent in Irish Politics (London, 1974). Was Faulkner conned over Sunningdale? Did James Molyneaux re-establish the primacy of the UUP though immobilism?



Craig claimed in 1975 that the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC look it up!) 'would insist on parliamentary democracy, but were sincere and genuine in their efforts to have equality for all citizens.' Should we take this seriously? What is important about the term parliamentary democracy?


Was Bill Craig's Vanguard movement quasi-fascist? How seriously should we take its attraction to the idea of Northern Irelands independence? Why was Vanguard and Craig eclipsed in the mid 1970s? Have a look at James Loughlin, Ulster Unionism and British National Identity (London, 1995) and Sarah Nelson, Ulsters Uncertain Defenders: Loyalists and the Northern Ireland Conflict (Belfast, 1984).



'His unique hold over the Protestant psyche has made him the principle obstacle in the way of peace in Northern Ireland.' Ed Maloney and Andy Pollack, Paisley (Dublin, 1986), p 440.


Is this a fair comment? Did Paisleys Free Presbyterianism chime with a much broader protestant constituency? (For this, see Steve Bruce, God Save Ulster: The Religion and Politics of Paisleyism (Oxford, 1986). Look particularly at his activities in the 1960s, the establishment of the DUP (note Desmond Boals role), his reaction to internment and the fall of Stormont, and the controversy over his apparent inclination to accept voluntary coalition after Sunningdale.



For catholic identity generally, see Fionnuala O Connor, In Search of a State: Catholics in Northern Ireland (Belfast, 1993). Were catholics willing to accept British sovereignty? Were they more or less radical that protestants? See also Marianne Elliott, The Catholics of Ulster: A History (London, 2000).



'There is no point in trying to fool the people that if Brian Faulkner and Gerry Fitt sit down in an executive together then the Northern Ireland problem is solved. 'John Hume cited in Barry White, John Hume: Statesman of the Troubles (Belfast, 1984), p 141.


What did Hume mean (he was referring to the Power-Sharing Executive established in 1974). Would all his party colleagues have agreed?


Was the SDLP torn between nationalism and social democracy? Were they the true inheritors of the Civil Rights Movement? What were the roles of Gerry Fitt, Paddy Devlin and John Hume? Did the SDLP have exaggerated importance because republicans opted out of electoral politics? See primarily Ian McAllister, The Northern Ireland Social Democratic and Labour Party: Political Opposition in a Divided Society (London, 1977) and Gerard Murrays John Hume and the SDLP: Impact and Survival in Northern Ireland (Dublin, 1998).


Official Sinn Fein / The Workers Party

Why was official republicanism largely unable to make the transition from militarism to party politics? See Henry Patterson, The Politics of Illusion: A Political History of the IRA (Serif, 1997) and Jack Holland and Henry McDonald, INLA: Deadly Divisions (Dublin, 1994).


More to come on:


  1. From counter-insurgency to law and order
  2. The impact of the Hunger Strikes
  3. The Anglo-Irish Agreement

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