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United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) Strike (1977)
- Background



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Text and Research: Brendan Lynn
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United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) Strike (1977)
- Background

In May 1974 virtually all shades of loyalist and unionist opinion in Northern Ireland had combined under the auspices of the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC) Strike to bring down the short-lived power sharing executive and the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement. The events of this period clearly marked not only a significant victory for Ulster unionism as a whole, but seemed to indicate a reversal in its declining political fortune. The suspension in March 1972 of the Stormont parliament and the introduction of direct rule from Westminster had come as an enormous blow leading to the further fragmentation of the Unionist bloc that had dominated Northern Ireland since 1921. The successful outcome of the UWC stoppage however seemed to offer the possibility of restoring the sense of self-confidence and the unity of purpose that had seemingly been lost during the years 1968-1972. For instance the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC), which had been established in early 1974 to co-ordinate political opposition to Sunningdale, remained in place as the body in which the now dominant elements of unionism would work together.

For a time the UUUC continued to act in this role most notably during the Constitutional Convention (May 1975 - March 1976) in which it held an overall majority over all other parties. Such a position reinforced the outcome of developments in 1974 in that the UUUC could effectively block any political solution the British government sought to impose on them. But on the negative side the UUUC also had to face the reality that their preferred option of a return to majority rule in Northern Ireland was not only rejected by Irish nationalism but also by the political establishment at Westminster.

Thus frustration began to grow within the UUUC at this apparent stalemate. The growing anger was also fuelled by the apparent failure of the authorities to deal with the ongoing paramilitary campaigns in Northern Ireland most notably by the IRA. As a result calls began to grow that the time had come once again for loyalists and unionists to come together in an effective manner in order to force the Labour government in London into changing its political and security policies. Towards the end of 1976 this led to the establishment within the UUUC of the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC). Although in effect the UUAC was no more than a sub-committee of the steering committee of the UUUC, it soon saw itself as the body which would lead the efforts to restore devolution and to secure an improved security response. With figures such as Ian Paisley and Ernest Baird to the fore, the UUAC began to consider its options and quickly decided that the only way to achieve their goals was to organise a repeat of the May 1974 strike. By early 1977 their plans were well advanced and by late April 1977 it warned the British government that unless it responded immediately to the demands of the UUAC, a strike would begin on Tuesday 3 May 1977.

 


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