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United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) Strike (1977)
- Chronology of Events



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Text and Research: Brendan Lynn and Martin Melaugh
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United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) Strike (1977)
- Chronology of Events

Saturday 23 April 1977
Paisley, in his role as head of the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC), threatened to organise a region-wide strike unless Roy Mason, then Secretary of State, acted against the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and also implemented the Convention Report. Thomas Passmore, then the County Grand Master of the Orange Order in Belfast, launched a verbal attack on the UUAC and its plans for a general strike. In addition he alleged that a member of the UUAC had been involved in discussions with the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Monday 25 April 1977
The United Unionist Action Council (UUAC), which was led by Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Ernie Baird, then leader of the United Ulster Unionist Movement (UUUM), announced that it would hold a region-wide strike in May 1977. The strike was organised to demand a tougher security response from the government and a return to 'majority-rule' government at Stormont. The strike was supported by the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC), the group that had organised the successful strike of May 1974, and also by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the largest of the Loyalist paramilitary groups. The UUAC gave Roy Mason, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, seven days to respond to their demands. The threat of strike action by the UUAC was condemned by other groupings within unionism including the Vanguard Unionist Party (VUP), the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), and the Orange Order.

Wednesday 27 April 1977
A series of personal attacks on one another by leading figures such as Enoch Powell, James Molyneaux, and Ian Paisley, illustrated the growing disagreement within unionism on the issue of the planned United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike. Roy Mason, then Secretary of State, announced that the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast was to receive an order worth some 70 million to construct two liquid gas carriers.

Friday 29 April 1977
Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), warned in a statement that if the British authorities failed to alter its policies then loyalists might have to consider taking over the administration of Northern Ireland. He also called for people to consider a rent, rates and Value Added Tax (VAT) strike. A meeting was held in Harland and Wolff shipyard at which a large majority of workers voted not to support the planned UUAC strike. In addition workers at the Ballylumford power station made it clear that they would only support the stoppage if it obtained clear support across all sectors of Northern Ireland industry. Following a request by Roy Mason, then Secretary of State, it was announced that extra British soldiers would be sent to Northern Ireland to maintain law and order in anticipation of the UUAC strike taking place. [1,200 soldiers arrived on 1 May 1977.] It was reported that approximately 200 Ulster Defence Association (UDA) men from Scotland along with 50 more from Liverpool had arrived in Belfast to support the strike planned by the UUAC.

Saturday 30 April 1977
Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said that if the forthcoming United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike was not a success then he would quit political life in Northern Ireland. [Most political and media commentators viewed the UUAC strike as a failure however on the 13 May 1977 Paisley declared that the strike had been a success.] It was alleged by sources 'close' to the UUAC that plans had been made to establish a loyalist provisional government in Northern Ireland. There were reports of panic buying of food, bottled gas, and other provisions in the face of the threats to supplies posed by the forthcoming UUAC strike.

May 1977

Sunday 1 May 1977
An additional 1,200 British soldiers were flown into Northern Ireland, and all Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) leave was cancelled, in anticipation of the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike. Fresh appeals were made from a range of organisations and political parties, including the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the Vanguard Unionist Party (VUP), the Orange Order, the Peace People, and the trade union movement, for the UUAC to call off their planned stoppage.

Monday 2 May 1977
In a last minute attempt to avoid the planned United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike Roy Mason, then Secretary of State, met leaders of the UUAC including Ian Paisley and Ernest Baird but the talks broke up without any agreement. Ian Paisley rejected allegations that the UUAC was using the strike as cover to secure independence for Ulster but warned that if it did take place he could not guarantee that intimidation would not take place. At Belfast docks workers decided by a small majority not to support the UUAC strike. In areas of Belfast, including the Shankill and Crumlin Road, there were reports of a number of food vans being hijacked and their contents stolen. In an interview Fred Mulley, then British Defence Secretary, warned that it might be impossible for the Army to maintain essential services. Thomas Passmore, then County Grand Master of the Orange Order in Belfast, alleged that he had received death threats in the wake of his public opposition to the strike. An opinion poll carried out by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) highlighted that although some 78 per cent of people interviewed opposed the UUAC stoppage, 93 per cent of Protestants and 43 per cent of Catholics supported a tougher security response against the IRA. The RUC announce that it had set up a special anti-intimidation squad in order to try to counter the use of the tactic during the proposed strike. Just before midnight, in a reverse of an earlier decision, 400 workers walked out of the Belfast shipyard.

Tuesday 3 May 1977
United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) Strike
Day 1 of the UUAC Strike
The United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) began a Northern Ireland wide strike. [Many factories managed to stay open although the port at Larne, County Antrim, was closed. Intimidation, or 'persuasion' as the Loyalist paramilitaries preferred to call it, was used as in 1974 to try to stop people from going to work. Despite this the majority of the Harland and Wolff shipyard workers voted against the strike. The strike was also criticised by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Ulster Vanguard, and the Orange Order. During the first three days of the strike the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) reported that it had removed 300 road blocks, arrested 23 people, and received 1,000 complaints of intimidation. In calling the strike the UUAC were copying the tactics of the Ulster Workers Council strike in May 1974 and were obviously hoping for similar success. However many of the conditions were different from 1974. There was not the same anxiety among the Protest population that Britain was about to withdraw from Northern Ireland and this had the effect of reducing support for the strike. In particular those organising the strike were unable to secure the support of key groups of workers. Chief amongst these were the workers at Ballylumford power station who, although brought under great pressure, refused on a number of occasions to support the strike. The other major factor was that the British government had learnt some lessons from the 1974 strike and were more prepared for the tactics of the strikers.]

Wednesday 4 May 1977
Day 2 of the UUAC Strike
The UUUC parliamentary coalition was ended because of the support of Ian Paisley and Ernest Baird for the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike. This decision was taken by James Molyneaux, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) at Westminster, on the grounds that elements of the UUAC were planning to establish a provisional government in Northern Ireland as the next stage of the stoppage. In Belfast loyalist paramilitaries were suspected of being responsible for a bomb explosion outside a police station on the York Road. Roy Mason argued that more people had attended work than on the first day of the strike. On the Newtownards Road in east Belfast the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) clashed with members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) when police officers attempted to remove a barricade. In spite of attacks on buses bus drivers voted to continue working. Andy Tyrie, then leader of the UDA and a member of the UUAC, appealed for members of the UDA to 'cool it'.

Thursday 5 May 1977
Day 3 of the UUAC Strike
After three days of the strike the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) released figures showing that it had dismantled some 300 roadblocks, arrested 23 people, and dealt with over 1,000 cases of alleged intimidation. In addition it also claimed that the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) was deliberately choosing to employ women and children during confrontations with the police in order to draw support to its cause and to alienate people against the RUC. A bomb exploded outside the Lismore factory in Portadown. [It was believed that Loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for the bombing which was thought to be a response to the factory remaining open during the stoppage.]

Friday 6 May 1977
Day 4 of the UUAC Strike
The United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) was unable to secure the support of the workers at the Ballylumford power station, near Larne, County Antrim. This meant that power would be maintained and factories and commerce could continue to operate. [The Ballylumford workers had control of a major part of Northern Ireland's power supply, approximately two-thirds, and thus were crucial to the outcome of the strike.] The Coachman's Inn, a hotel situated near Bangor, County Down, was attacked by a mob which set fire to the building. The premises had continued to remain open during the strike. Roy Mason, then Secretary of State, met a delegation led by Harry West, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Its members including representatives from the Orange Order, industrialists, farmers, and businessmen. The delegation pressed Mason to embark on a series of tougher security measures. Contrasting claims continued to be made about the progress of the UUAC strike. While the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) claimed that the business sector was 'near normal', leaders of the UUAC argued that support for their action was growing. In an attempt to increase the pressure the UUAC called for a complete shutdown of Northern Ireland on Monday 9 May 1977. This call was criticised by Harry West who said he had been guaranteed by Roy Mason that a tougher security policy would be implemented.

Saturday 7 May 1977
Day 5 of the UUAC Strike
The Peace People held a rally, its first public rally for some time, outside Belfast City Hall to protest at the levels of intimidation in the wake of the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike. Attention once again turned to the workers at Ballylumford power station, near Larne, which was increasingly being seen as crucial to the outcome of the UUAC strike. A delegation of four Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MPs, Robert Bradford, William Craig, James Molyneaux, and Harold McCusker, who were opposed to the UUAC strike, visited the Ballylumford power station and urged workers to remain at their posts. Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), together with a delegation from the UUAC also held a meeting with workers at Ballylumford. Paisley claimed that he could close the plant at any point but instead had urged staff there to keep working in order to maintain 'essential supplies'. In the Lisburn-Hillsborough-Moira area, south of Belfast, some 600 farm vehicles took part in a cavalcade to call for an improvement in the security situation. Those behind the protest however made clear that their actions did not represent any support for the UUAC strike.

Sunday 8 May 1977
Day 6 of the UUAC Strike
The loyalist paramilitary group the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a cover name (pseudonym) used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), announced that it might be forced to 'coerce' loyalists in Northern Ireland into supporting the UUAC strike. Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), reiterated his belief that the strike had already been a success even if at some point it had to be called off. However a spokesman for the UUAC stated that there was 'no chance' of the strike being called off.

Monday 9 May 1977
Day 7 of the UUAC Strike
There were many demonstrations and roadblocks across Northern Ireland in support of the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike. Ian Paisley joined farmers who were blocking the town of Ballymena in the middle of his North Antrim Westminster constituency. Across Northern Ireland there were a series of similar protests with demonstrations, roadblocks and cavalcades taking place in Belfast, Enniskillen, Larne, Portadown and Newtonards. Uncertainty still surrounded the situation at Ballylumford power station with reports continuing to emerge about meetings involving workers at the plant.

Tuesday 10 May 1977>
Day 8 of the UUAC Strike
Harry Bradshaw (46), a Protestant civilian, was shot dead by Loyalist paramilitaries as he drove a bus on the Crumlin Road, Belfast. He was killed because he was working during the United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) strike. John Geddis (26), a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), was killed in a Loyalist bomb attack on a petrol station on the Crumlin Road, Belfast. Again this attack was carried out because the petrol station had opened during the strike. Two members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were killed as the result of a premature explosion of an incendiary bomb they were working on at a derelict house in Monkstown, Newtownabbey, County Antrim. At a roadblock outside Ballymena Ian Paisley, Ernest Baird, and other members of the UUAC were arrested. Paisley was charged with obstruction of the highway and then released. In Toomebridge, County Antrim a roadblock by farmers supporting the UUAC was attacked by local nationalists. In the disturbances that followed farm vehicles were pushed into the River Bann as the blockade was dispersed. It was reported that a number of shots were also fired during the disturbances.

Wednesday 11 May 1977>
Day 9 of the UUAC Strike
At Larne, County Antrim, there were a number of ferry sailings to and from the port despite the fact that workers were still on strike. To mark the death of Harry Bradshaw who had been killed by Loyalist paramilitaries on 10 May 1977, bus services were halted. However elsewhere the situation appeared to be stabilising with electricity supplies continuing as normal and with apparently fewer street disturbances. In Donaghdee, County Down the Copelands Hotel was destroyed in a suspicious fire. The incident is alleged to have followed the decision of the owners to stay open during the strike.

Thursday 12 May 1977
Day 12 of the UUAC Strike
The port of Larne, County Antrim, was reopened and ferry sailings were resumed. In an incident on the Donegall Road in Belfast the driver of a petrol tanker was shot when he was forced to stop by a large crowd of loyalist protestors. During a debate at Westminster Don Concannon, then Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), defended the British government's security policy in Northern Ireland and pointed to figures which he claimed showed a fall in incidents over the past year. He also claimed that the UUAC strike was simply diverting the security forces from concentrating on the activity of paramilitary groups. On the political front Concannon also held out the possibility that the government hoped to launch a new initiative after the local council elections scheduled for 18 May 1977.

Friday 13 May 1977
End of United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) Strike
Day 13 of the UUAC Strike
The United Unionist Action Council (UUAC) called an end to its strike. The strike had failed to stop many aspects of industry and commerce. Ian Paisley declared the strike a success. [However, many commentators considered that in comparison with the Ulster Workers Council Stike of 1974 the UUAC strike was not a success. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) were to report later that 3 people had been killed, 41 RUC officers injured, and 115 people charged with offences committed during the strike.]

Wednesday 18 May 1977
District Council Elections
Elections were held to the 26 district councils in Northern Ireland. As the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) had broken up the main Unionist parties stood against each other for the first time since 1974.

 


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