The scrapping of Stormont in 1972 set the tone for London’s approach to Northern Ireland

News Letter editorial on Thursday, March 24, 2022:

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Edward Heath’s suspension of Stormont.

We recap on that fateful decision in today’s News Letter, our latest news feature on the monumental events of 50 years ago (see link below).

Even though the devolved government was led by a thoughtful and progressive unionist leader, Brian Faulkner, that was not good enough for London. The IRA was, in a sense, rewarded in that its stepping up of terrorism led to the scrapping of a Northern Ireland parliament that it hated.

There were a number of landmarks in the slide into terror which reached its peak in 1972, the year in which the Province stood on the brink of civil war. One such moment came a year before, in March 1971, with the murder of three Scottish soldiers, lured to the prospect of a party, at a time when squaddies were still relaxed about their security. Prior to those ‘honeytrap’ slayings the total numbers of Troubles killings was 59. Within 18 months of the murder of the young military trio, more than 500 people would have lost their lives. It helped cement the breach between soldiers and a nationalist population that had initially welcomed them.

Direct rule set the tone for the UK approach to Northern Ireland ever since. One of general weakness in the face of the long IRA terror campaign, and towards Irish governments.

Having said that, the first 13 years of Westminster control were overseen by both Tory and Labour governments that were robust on security and constitutional matters, compared to the time after the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement betrayal. It set in motion a timid approach towards Irish interference in NI affairs, something that with ministers such as Simon Coveney is at its highest levels since the 1970s.

Power at Stormont should be good for local administration but we have dysfunctional government in which a party that wants NI to fail knows it has to be in office at all times and is allowed to behave as you would expect a party with such aspirations to behave.

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