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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July, 2005, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Heath was direct rule architect
Sir Edward Heath, House of Commons, 1992

The former Conservative prime minister Sir Edward Heath, who was in power during a particularly volatile period of Northern Ireland's political history, has died.

His four year tenure as prime minister was between 1970 and 1974.

In 1972, Ted Heath made the decision to impose direct rule on Northern Ireland weeks after the events of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry.

His decision to intervene in the governance of the province by suspending the unionist dominated Stormont parliament and the conduct of British soldiers on Bloody Sunday meant Heath was criticised by both unionist and nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland.

Giving evidence to the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday in January 2003, he denied being part of a high level conspiracy which resulted in the death of 14 unarmed civilians at the hands of the British Army.

Sunningdale

In an effort to introduce power-sharing to Northern Ireland for the first time, Sir Edward used his influence as prime minister to bring about the ill-fated Sunningdale Agreement.

The agreement, named after the Civil Service College in Berkshire where it was brokered on 21 October 1973, lasted only five months.

The power-sharing executive took office on 1 January 1974 and was led by Ulster Unionist leader Brian Faulkner with SDLP leader Gerry Fitt as his deputy

However, it was forced to admit defeat on 28 May after Northern Ireland was brought to a standstill by the Ulster Workers Strike.

Bloody Sunday
Soldiers shot 13 people dead in Derry on Bloody Sunday

Former Ulster Unionist MP Lord Kilclooney said Sir Edward did not have a favourable perception of Northern Ireland.

He said his decision to introduce direct rule had been "traumatic for the unionist population".

"It was the first step towards the British government giving Dublin executive powers within Northern Ireland," he said.

"The relationship between the UUP and Ted Heath was not good. His perception of Northern Ireland was one of distaste and he did not look kindly upon Ulster Unionists

"In the Sunningdale Agreement he acted very badly as far as Ulster Unionism was concerned, and the UUP then decided to reject the Sunningdale Agreement which the people of Northern Ireland then did."

Former SDLP Stormont MP Ivan Cooper said his party had the view that Heath had been a prime minister closely aligned to the Ulster Unionist Party.

"There are pluses and minuses during his term of reign which I recollect, one particular aspect of his time in power, of course, was Bloody Sunday," he said.

"I believe that Bloody Sunday was the thing that fuelled the IRA. It led to the campaign of violence which we had here for many years and Edward Heath was the prime minister when that happened.

"I would have the view that Ted Heath was quite close to unionism in many ways and certainly from our perspective we saw in him as a man who was mostly aligned with Ulster Unionism.

"Certainly his government was not one which was respected by the SDLP."

Sir Edward, who was 89, retired from parliament in 2001 after serving more than 50 years in the House of Commons.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
A look at Sir Edward Heath's private life



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