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BBC News Front Page | World | In depth | Northern Ireland

The search for peace
Direct Rule
March, 1972
Profiles Themes



Direct Rule
• Violence erupts
• Bloody Sunday
• Bloody Friday



Events Parties and paramilitaries
Piece together the puzzle of the Northern Ireland conflict by clicking the related subjects above.

• PM Brian Faulkner announces direct rule


• Belfast views on direct rule

Direct Rule

William Faulkner announces his resignation, heralding the beginning of direct rule

Direct rule from London was initiated in response to increased violence in the province and the apparent unwillingness of the ruling Unionist politicians to accommodate changes at that time.

It brought half a century of unionist control to an end and effectively conceded that Northern Ireland had become ungovernable from Belfast because of the inability of the two communities to work together.

But the decision did little to halt the growing violence as paramilitaries on both sides seized the opportunity to fill the vacuum left by the departure of normal politics.

The Stormont ministers had attempted to make some changes, but to the nationalist opposition, they appeared to be too little and too late. It appeared that in the space of three short years, three unionist prime ministers has failed to restore stability and the trust of all sides of the community.

But the catalyst for the imposition of direct rule was the growing friction between London and Belfast over the direction and control of security policy amid worsening violence.

Two days after Bloody Sunday, the British Embassy in Dublin was burned down and some weeks later the Official IRA killed seven people in a bomb attack at military barracks in Aldershot, England.

Fearing a full-scale civil war, the British Prime Minister Edward Heath decided Westminster should take complete control over security policy in the province. Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner and his cabinet resigned in protest.

On the day the Stormont parliament met for the last time, 100,000 unionists converged to join a two-day protest strike that crippled power, public transport and forced businesses to close. Mr Faulkner was cheered as he walked onto the balcony. He called for restraint and the crowd dispersed quietly.

All power now rested in the hands of the new Secretary of State, William Whitelaw. His Northern Ireland Office was responsible for the day-to-day running of the province. Although 1973 would see an attempt at establishing a power-sharing assembly, direct rule was there to stay.

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