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Last Updated: Friday, 28 December 2007, 12:59 GMT
Stormont secret papers released
James Callaghan
James Callaghan initiated a debate on more MPs for Northern Ireland
Historian Dr Eamon Phoenix looks back to 1977 in Northern Ireland as Stormont papers from 30 years ago are released.

The year 1977 saw the reduction of violence to its lowest level since the outbreak of the Troubles and a shift in British government policy away from power-sharing and towards a closer relationship between a weakened Labour government and the Ulster Unionists.

In a New Year statement, the IRA declared that they would "remove the British presence even if it meant reducing Belfast to rubble".

A bomb blitz in London was followed in February by a concerted IRA campaign against leading businessmen in Northern Ireland.

On 2 February, the IRA shot dead Jeffrey Agate, the English-born head of the Du Pont Corporation in Londonderry and two more executives died in the following weeks.

A statement from the paramilitary organisation declared that "those executed had played a prominent role in stabilising the British-orientated economy".

Loyalist paramilitaries were also active and a 10-year-old boy was killed when a bomb went off at an Official Republican gathering in west Belfast.

The spring of 1977 saw the deaths of two leading public figures.

In March, Brian Faulkner, last Stormont prime minister and head of the 1974 power-sharing executive, was killed in a riding accident and in April Cardinal William Conway, Primate of All Ireland, passed away.

Dominated

His successor was Monsignor Tomas O Fiaich, a native of Crossmaglen.

May was dominated by the United Ulster Action Council (UUAC) strike, launched by the DUP leader, Rev Ian Paisley, and his ally, Ernest Baird, and supported by the UDA.

The stoppage was called to demand a new security offensive against the IRA and the restoration of majority rule at Stormont.

On April 30, Dr Paisley announced that he would quit politics if the strike failed.

The strike began on 3 May but faced a determined attitude from the new secretary of state, ex-miner Roy Mason, who personally co-ordinated the government response from Stormont Castle.

Unlike in 1974, the British military was poised to seize the power stations and Mason's blend of diplomacy and firmness kept the majority of power workers on board.

Intimidation was rife and a busman was shot dead but most people made their way to work.

As the RUC cleared roadblocks, Dr Paisley fell back on his Ballymena base, only to be charged with obstruction.

Mason was ebullient at the success of his tough line, later telling the BBC: 'He was a coward, Paisley... went off to Ballymena and barricaded the town.

Gained ground

"I took off in my helicopter from Stormont Castle that day, singing, Don't Cry For Me, Ballymena".

In the subsequent council elections, the Ulster Unionists and SDLP gained ground with the DUP winning only 12.7% of the vote.

At the same time, British premier Jim Callaghan announced a Speaker's conference to consider unionist demands for more Northern Ireland seats at Westminster, a policy resented by the SDLP as "implying integration".

In May 1977, an undercover SAS soldier, Captain Robert Nairac, was kidnapped and murdered by the IRA in south Armagh.

In June, secret talks between loyalists and republicans under the Nobel peace laureate, Sean MacBride, failed and Fianna Fail, under Jack Lynch, swept the polls in the Republic of Ireland

In August, Queen Elizabeth paid a two-day visit to Northern Ireland as part of her silver jubilee celebrations.

A small bomb exploded at the Coleraine university campus shortly after she left.

In local politics, Paddy Devlin, the Belfast trade unionist was expelled from the SDLP for attacking it as "too green," leaving Gerry Fitt as the party's last authentic working-class leader.

The summer witnessed a feud between the Official and Provisional IRA which left four men dead.

In October, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, founders of the Peace People, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The death toll for the year was 110, including 67 civilians, 15 British military personnel and 28 RUC/UDR.

SEE ALSO
Papers tell of H-blocks protest
28 Dec 07 |  Northern Ireland
Tough response to loyalist strike
28 Dec 07 |  Northern Ireland
Stormont discussed Paisley arrest
28 Dec 07 |  Northern Ireland

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