February 05, 2014

Terence O'Neill - The Moderate and Ulster at Cross Roads

Captain Terence O'Neill with his predecessor Lord Brookeborough
David McCann wrote in the News Letter of March 2013 on the 50th anniversary of O'Neill's coming to power in 1963:
"O’Neill was the first unionist Prime Minister who attempted to win over middle class Catholics to support the Union by engaging in symbolic acts of reconciliation such as visiting Catholic schools and extending condolences on the death of the Pope."
On November 20 1964 the News Letter wrote an editorial urging Terence O’Neill to meet his southern counterpart Sean Lemass, arguing that:
"No danger to the unionist cause would be involved in the meeting [with Sean Lemass], in agreeing Captain O’Neill would show the strength of his position." 
As David McCann said:
"The majority of the Province welcomed this new relationship with the Irish government and O’Neill won acclaim from a variety of sources including the News Letter for this masterstroke."
In 1967 Polls were showing support for O'Neill's leadership from both sides of the community. Yet Ian Paisley and his fellow extremists cried foul. 
"These people are not merely extremist. They are lunatics who would set a course along a road which could only lead at the end into an All-Ireland Republic. They are not loyalists, but Disloyalists: disloyal to Britain, disloyal to the Constitution, disloyal to the Crown, disloyal - if they are in public life - to the solemn lathes they have sworn to her majesty the Queen... I for one am not willing to expose our police force to insult and injury. Nor am I prepared to see the shopkeepers and traders of ulster wrecked and looted for the benefit of the rabble. We must tackle the root causes if this agitation to to be contained."
And this is the important bit:
"We must be able to say to the moderate of both sides: come with us into a new era of co-operation and leave extremists to the law."
As Conor Cruise O'Brien said in 'Memoir - My Life and Themes':
"The best hope for peace in Northern Ireland has always been for an agreement between moderate nationalists and moderate unionists, and a common front of both against the men of violence on both sides."
Terence O'Neill continued:
"I have spoken to you in the past about the groundswell of moderate opinion. It's presence was seen three years ago when we fought an election on a manifesto that would stand inspection in any western democracy and we swept the country on a non-sectarian platform.
He then made a remark of great contemporary relevance:
"Those who would sow the wind by having a bitter election would surely reap the whirlwind."
He laid out a message for the moderate:
"Your duty is to play your part in taking the heat out of the situation before blood is shed... The bully boy tactics we saw... Incur for us the contempt of Britain and the world - and such contempt is the greatest threat to Ulster."
He laid it out for the moderate again, under the sub-section 'Your Verdict':
"What kind of ulster do you want? A happy and respected Province in good standing with the rest of the UK? Or a place continually torn apart by riots and demonstrations and regarded by the rest of Britain as a political outcast? As always in a democracy the choice is yours. I will accept whatever your verdict may be. If it is your decision that we should live up to the words 'Ulster is Britsih' which is part of our creed then my services will be at your disposal to do what I can. But if you should want an inward-looking, selfish and divided Ulster then you must seek for others to lead you along that road for I cannot and will not do it. Please weigh well all that is at stake and make your voice heard in whatever way you think best so that we may know the views NOT of the few BUT of the many."
He finished and said under the section 'Time of Decision':
"This is truly a time of decision and in your silence ALL that we have built up could be lost."
Ultimately Paisley and his fellow extremists destroyed the moderate Terence O'Neill. The ultimate irony is that Ian Paisley excoriated O’Neill for a policy now actively pursued by DUP. 

The Terence O'Neill address, 'Ulster at Cross Roads' in full here.

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