Direct Rule

Direct rule from London was initiated in March 1972 in response to increased violence and the apparent unwillingness of the ruling Unionist politicians to accommodate changes at that time. It brought half a century of unionist control to an end and effectively conceded that Northern Ireland had become ungovernable from Stormont because of the inability of the Unionist and Nationalist communities to work together.1

Stormont, located in Belfast, is where the Parliament of Northern Ireland was housed from 1921 until 1972. After the O'Neill years of 1963-1969, Chichester-Clark became prime minister and tried to introduce reforms including the introduction of one man-one vote but the Unionists were hostile to this and demanded tougher security. Chichester-Clark warned the Unionist party that unless they could deliver "reasonable policies of fairness and justice for everyone," Stormont might face direct rule from London.2

Stormont Parliamentary Building in Belfast3

Brian Faulkner became Stormont's sixth and last prime minister. Edward Heath, British prime minster told Faulkner that if significant progress was not made within a year of Faulkner taking office he would introduce direct rule. Stormont fell because Northern Ireland was locked in serious crisis. Heath came to conclude Faulkner could not deliver political progress or security success. Two days after Bloody Sunday, the British Embassy in Dublin was burned down and some weeks later the Official IRA killed seven people in a bomb attack at military barracks in Aldershot, England. After a two-day protest strike, 100,000 people rallied at Stormont. Faulkner addressed the crowd, but no unity was achieved. After his speech, Stormont adjourned for the last time on March 28. Fearing a full-scale civil war, the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, decided Westminster should take complete control of security policy in the province.45 Northern Ireland was now directly governed by Westminister. The ending of Stormont rule was emotional and traumatic time for Protestants and Unionist, for they believed the Stormont institution was their chief defense against nationalists and republicans.6

Meetings between the IRA and British politician, Harold Wilson, reinforced the Unionist fear that Britain was attempting negotiation with the Republicans behind Unionist backs. Britain believed that direct rule would help reduce the violence, but in the 12 months before direct rule there were 250 deaths, and the 12 months that followed after direct rule was implemented the death rate doubled. Although there was resentment toward the removal of Stormont, there was no signs of mutiny among the Protestants.7


Faulkner's resignation at Stormont.8

Direct rule was intended as very much a temporary system, only to be in affect while a cross-community successor to the Stormont system was devised. A new department was created, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO). It's first head was William Whitelaw, who was known as the Northern Ireland Secretary or in Belfast, the Secretary of State. Whitelaw would later become the leader of the Conservative party. Whitelaw's first task was to open negotiations with the parties, and he tried to improve relations with nationalist and republicans. One significant consequence was to give 'special category status' to prisoners associated with paramilitary groups during the hungerstrike.9

There are three types of power: threat power, economic power, and integrative power. Threat power is when things happen to avoid undesired consequences or when people behave out of fear. This type of power is the idea behind military forces and can lose all effectiveness if not paired with integrative power. Integrative power happens when individuals view actions or policies are seen as legitimate by certain people. If threats by military forces are not seen as legitimate, the population will not act in accordance. Economic power exists when people exchange material goods because they believe it is in their self-interest to do so.

Stormont tried to execute threat power by utilizing military control. Threats are not effective without fear. People cooperate with a power they perceive as legitimate because they are afraid to do so otherwise. If this fear disappears, however, the power of threat that was based on the fear disappears with it. This was the case with the nationalists, they didn't see the fear of the military powers and therefore did not cooperate. Stormont did not have legitimacy of their military forces in their threats, and therefore could not execute threat power.10

By Edward Heath warning Faulkner to make a change, he was attempting to encourage Faulkner in a forceful way to end the violence between the two sides. According to The Psychology of Peace, there are many goals of using nonviolence, but there are also many psychological hinderances to that process. One of these hinderances is not having a clear view. Because mechanisms that support violence, such as the support of the IRA and RUC in Northern Ireland, there is constant danger when people are investing so much of their time and energy into the campaign. Although Faulkner was putting forth a lot of effort in his campaign, he could not control the actions of the others who were bent on using violent tactics to make a point. When direct rule was put into effect, Heath intended to eliminate unclear thinking within Northern Ireland and work toward a more equal, peaceful government to replace Stormont.


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