Why Did Unionists Oppose The Sunningdale Agreement

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 provided for an Irish Council, but these provisions had never been adopted. The Unionists were furious at any “interference” by the Republic of Ireland in its newly created region. In 1973, following an agreement on the formation of an executive, an agreement was reached on the reintroduction of an Irish Council to promote cooperation with the Republic of Ireland. Between 6 and 9 December, discussions took place in the town of Sunningdale in Berkshire between British Prime Minister Edward Heath, Irish Prime Minister Liam Cosgrave and the three pro-agreement parties. On December 9, a press release was issued announcing the agreement, which was later announced as the Sunningdale Agreement. Another event that, in the summer of 1972, became a bee on the Unionist hood, was the revelation that Northern Ireland`s Foreign Minister, William Whitelaw, had had political discussions with senior officials of the Provisional IRA. Although no agreement was reached, the discussions, widely criticized in many quarters, again attracted the paranoia of the Unionists “which fuelled their traditional fear that Britain would betray them”. [4] It is undeniable that the aforementioned events of 1972 contributed significantly to the increase in membership and violent attacks by loyalist paramilitary organizations and participated in the strike of the United Loyalist Council, led by William Craig, in February 1973, whose main objective was to “restore some sort of Protestant or loyalist control over provincial affairs”. [5] In January 1974, the Ulster Unionist Party narrowly voted against further participation in the assembly and Faulkner resigned to be replaced by the anti-Sunningdale Harry West. Parliamentary elections were held the following month. The Ulster Unionists formed the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) as a coalition of anti-union unionists with the Progressive Union Vanguard Party and the Democratic Unionist Party to field a single anti-Sunningdale candidate in each constituency. The pro-Sunningdale parties, the SDLP, the Alliance, the Labour Party of Northern Ireland and the Pro Assembly Unionists, made up of Faulkner`s supporters, disagreed and clashed.

When the results were de-reported, UUUC won 11 of the twelve constituencies, some of which were won by split votes. Only West Belfast has returned a pro-Sunningdale MP (Gerry Fitt). UUUC has declared that this is a democratic rejection of the Sunningdale Assembly and executive and has tried to bring it down by all means. Finally, it was agreed that the Council executive would be limited to `tourism, the protection of nature and aspects of animal health`, but this did not reassure the Unionists, who saw the Republic`s influence on northern affairs as a further step towards a united Ireland.

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