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Terence O'Neill

From Academic Kids

Captain Terence O'Neill, Baron O'Neill of the Maine (September 10, 1914 - June 12, 1990), was the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

Terence O'Neill was born on September 10, 1914 in County Antrim. He was the son of Capt. Arthur O'Neill, the first MP to be killed as a result of World War I. The O'Neills were descended from the O'Neill clan, the Gaelic kings of Ulster. O'Neill was educated at Eton College and then joined the army. During World War II he served in the Irish Guards. In a by-election in 1946 he was elected as a Unionist MP for the Bannside constituency in the Stormont parliament.

O'Neill served in a series of junior postions. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and Local Government from February 1948 until November 1953, when he was appointed Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. He was Minister of Home Affairs from April to October 1956 when he was appointed Minister for Finance.

In 1963 he succeeded Brookeborough in becoming Prime Minister. He introduced new policies that would have been unheard of with Brookeborough as Prime Minister. He aimed to end sectarianism and to bring Catholics and Protestants into working relationships. A visit to a convent proved controversial among many Protestants. He also had great aspirations in the industrial sector. In January 1965 O'Neill invited the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Sean Lemass, for talks in Belfast. O'Neill met with strong opposition from within his own party mainly because he informed very few of the visit and from the extremist Ian Paisley, who rejected any dealings with the Republic. Paisley threw snowballs at Lemass' car during the visit. In February O'Neill visited Lemass in Dublin.

In 1968 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association began street demonstrations. The march in Derry on 5 October 1968, banned by William Craig, the Minister of Home Affairs was met with violence from the RUC, who batonned protesters, among them prominent politicians. This violence was caught by television cameras and broadcast worldwide. The date of this march is taken by many historians as being the start of the Northern Ireland troubles. In May of 1968, O'Neill was pelted with eggs, flour and stones by members of the Woodvale Unionist association who disapproved of his perceived conciliatory policies.

In response to this bad publicity O'Neill introduced a Five Point Reform Programme. This granted the NICRA a number of the concessions they had demanded, but most importantly, it did not include one man one vote. Despite this, the NICRA felt they had made some ground and agreed to postpone their marches. Things were expected to improve, but many in the Catholic community felt let down by the limited reforms. A student group was formed by Bernadette Devlin and Michael Farrell, which they named the People's Democracy. A four-day march from Belfast to Derry began on the 1st of January 1969. On the fourth day the march was ambushed at Burntollet Bridge by around 200 hardline unionists. Although many RUC men were present during the attack, none intervened. It later emeged that many of the assailants were in fact off-duty policemen themselves. 13 marchers required hospital treatment as a result of their injuries. The Burntollet attack sparked several days of rioting between the RUC and Catholic protestors in the Bogside area of Derry.

In February 1969 O'Neill called a surprise general election because of the turmoil inside the Ulster Unionist Party caused by 10 to 12 anti-O'Neill dissident members of the Unionist Parliamentary Party and the resignation of Brian Faulkner from O'Neill's Government.

The electorate was faced with a simple choice: pro- or anti-O'Neill. However, from O'Neill's point of view, the election results were inconclusive. O'Neill in particular was humiliated by his near defeat in his own constituency of Bannside by Ian Paisley. He resigned as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and as Prime Minister in April 1969 after a serious of bomb explosions on Belfast's water supply by the UVF brought his personal political crisis to a head. These bombings had been organised by members of his own party to facilitate his removal from office.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, published in May 1969, he stated "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...they will refuse to have 18 children...If you treat Roman Catholics with due consideration and kindness, they will live like Protestants in spite of the authoritative nature of their Church."

He retired from Stormont politics in January 1970 when he resigned his seat. In that year he was made a life peer, Baron O'Neill of the Maine of Ahoghill in the County of Antrim, in the House of Lords.

Lord O'Neill died in Hampshire in England on June 12, 1990.

Other references

  • Terence O'Neill, Ulster at the crossroads, Faber and Faber, London, 1969.
  • Terence O'Neill, The autobiography of Terence O’Neill, Hart-Davies, London, 1972.
  • Marc Mulholland, Northern Ireland at the crossroads: Ulster Unionism in the O'Neill years 1960-9, Macmillan, London, 2000.
Preceded by:
Sir Basil Brooke
Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland Followed by:
James Chichester-Clark
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