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United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) Strike (1977)
- Legacy of the Strike



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

The failure of the UUAC strike in May 1977 to gain clear concessions from the British government was to have important short and long-term consequences in determining the future direction of Ulster unionism as a whole.

To begin with it put paid to the attempts to maintain a sense of political unity within an overall co-ordinating body along the lines of the UUUC. With the UUUC having outlived its usefulness the two main factions within it, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), under the leadership of Ian Paisley, began to go their separate ways. Although Paisley had threatened to resign from politics if the strike failed, he remained a key figure. Within weeks Paisley had received a major boost when his party performed strongly, largely at the expense of the UUP, at local government elections on 18 May 1977. With a number of the smaller unionist parties also in terminal decline the stage was now set for a bitter political rivalry to develop between the DUP and UUP as to who represented unionism in Northern Ireland.

As for a threatened repeat of the UWC stoppage of May 1974, it was now obvious that the strike option might not necessarily in all circumstances be the right course to follow. In particular the events of May 1977 had proved that it could be used only in extreme cases and where all shades of unionist and loyalist opinion were prepared to wholeheartedly support it. If these conditions did not exist then as 1977 had proved, there were many within the wider unionist community who would be reluctant to support any action which could, if not properly controlled, lead to further unrest and disorder. This dilemma was again to come to the fore following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) in November 1985 as unionists had to decide what course of action their protests should take.

Finally what had occurred in May 1977 was to reinforce an important fact for future developments in Northern Ireland. In particular it had illustrated that unionism retained the potential to effectively veto any political settlement which did not meet with its consent. At the same time however this apparent position of strength did not necessarily mean that in turn unionism could dictate or impose its own terms on Westminster where political power now effectively rested.

 


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