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Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers' Council Strike and the Struggle for Democracy in Northern Ireland$
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David McCann and Cillian McGrattan

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780719099519

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719099519.001.0001

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Sunningdale and the limits of ‘rejectionist’ Unionism

Sunningdale and the limits of ‘rejectionist’ Unionism

(p.100) 7 Sunningdale and the limits of ‘rejectionist’ Unionism
Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers' Council Strike and the Struggle for Democracy in Northern Ireland

Stuart Aveyard

Shaun McDaid

Manchester University Press

This chapter analyses the impact of the Sunningdale Agreement and its aftermath on unionist politics in Northern Ireland. It will begin by placing divisions within the unionist bloc, many of which preceded Sunningdale, in context. It will outline how divisions on power-sharing crystalized between the publication of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals in March 1973 and the collapse of the power-sharing executive at the hands of the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) in May 1974. It will consider how opposition to Sunningdale created short-lived unity among disparate strands of unionism, which disintegrated once the executive collapsed. Drawing extensively from archival evidence, it will demonstrate how, after 1974, unionists experienced a prolonged limitation of their capacity to influence policy as British governments refused to countenance a return of devolution without nationalist involvement. This cemented a lasting cleavage within unionism between a small minority prepared to countenance power-sharing and the considerable majority that demanded a return to majority rule. Both desired devolution, but the latter, paradoxically, pursued policies that ultimately reinforced direct rule. The consistency of the British government’s stance on nationalist involvement in any devolved settlement and the absence of a local administration that unionists could focus their protests against ensured that the 1974 UWC strike was the zenith of rejectionist unionism. This combination of factors imposed clear limits on unionist political influence in subsequent years.

Keywords:   Ulster Unionism, Ulster Unionist Party, Ulster Workers’ Council Strike, Sunnindale Agreement, Northern Ireland Conflict

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