Chronology of some relevant events prior to the UWC strike
Tuesday 20 March 1973
The British government published a White Paper, Northern
Ireland Constitutional Proposals, outlining plans for a Northern
Ireland Assembly. The proposed Assembly would be elected by proportional
representation (PR) with 78 members sitting at Stormont. In addition
to having a power-sharing executive the White Paper also proposed
a 'Council of Ireland' to deal with matters of mutual interest
between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Thursday 28 June 1973
Elections to the proposed Northern Ireland Assembly took place
across the region. There are 52 members returned to the Assembly
who were notionally in favour of the proposals in the White Paper,
and there were 26 members who were against the proposals.
Tuesday 31 July 1973
The first meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly took place
at Stormont amid noisy scenes of protest.
Friday 5 October 1973
Representatives of three parties, the Unionist Party (UP),
the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and the Alliance
Party of Northern Ireland (APNI), met for talks in Stormont. The
talks were about the possible formation of an executive to govern
Northern Ireland. The three parties met on a number of subsequent
Wednesday 21 November 1973
Agreement was reached on the formation of a power-sharing
Northern Ireland Executive. The Executive was to be composed of
11 voting members (6 Unionists, 4 Social Democratic and Labour
Party; SDLP, and 1 Alliance Party) and 4 non-voting members (2
SDLP, 1 Unionist, and 1 Alliance Party).
Thursday 6 December 1973
A conference on Northern Ireland was held in Sunningdale,
England. The Sunningdale Agreement sets out the parameters
for the 'Irish Dimension' in the government of Northern Ireland.
Tuesday 1 January 1974
The Northern Ireland Executive took office.
Thursday 28 February 1974
Westminster elections took place across the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland the election was in effect a referendum on
power-sharing and the Council of Ireland.
Saturday 23 March 1974 (or 10 May 1974 ?)
The Ulster Workers' Council (UWC), a new grouping, issues
a statement calling for new elections to the Northern Ireland
Saturday 4 May 1974
A conference of pro-Assembly Unionists was held in Poststewart,
County Derry, to discuss the Sunningdale proposals.
Sunday 5 May 1974
The pro-Assembly Unionists meeting in Portstewart, County
Derry, announce the reformation of their group which will use
the name the Unionist Party.
Wednesday 8 May 1974
The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) issued a statement condemning
the security situation in Northern Ireland and gave its support
to the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) and the policy of
opposing the Sunningdale Agreement.
Chronology of events during the UWC strike
Tuesday 14 May 1974
There was a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on a motion
condemning power-sharing and the Council of Ireland. The motion
was defeated by 44 votes to 28. At 6.00pm, following the conclusion
of the Assembly debate, Harry Murray announced to a group of journalists
that a general strike was to start the following day. The organisation
named as be responsible for calling the strike was the Ulster
Workers' Council (UWC). The action was to become known as the
Ulster Workers' Council strike.
Wednesday 15 May 1974
Day 1 of the UWC strike
The initial response to the strike was poor with many
workers going to work. However, following meetings held at a number
of workplaces, people began to leave work during lunch-time and
early afternoon. By the end of the day the port of Larne, County
Antrim, was effectively sealed off. A number of roads had been
blocked by hijacked vehicles. Some buses were hijacked in Belfast.
Electricity supplies were also disrupted with rotating four-hourly
power cuts occurring across the region. The power cuts forced
some factories to close and send workers home. The Ulster Workers'
Council (UWC) issued a statement [IMAGE] saying that it would ensure that
essential services would continue.
Members of the UWC together with Loyalist leaders met for talks
with Stanley Orme, the then Minister of Sate at the Northern Ireland
Thursday 16 May 1974
Day 2 of the UWC strike
The effect of the strike deepened with the engineering
sector of the economy being the hardest hit. The use of intimidation
(or 'persuasion' as the Loyalist paramilitaries preferred to call
it) [VIDEO] had a significant impact on the number of people who
managed to get to work. The strike began to have a number of effects
on the farming sector with uncollected, or unprocessed, milk having
to be dumped and fresh food not reaching shops. The Ulster Workers'
Council (UWC) issued a list of 'essential services' [IMAGE]
which were to be allowed to operate as normal and also issued
a telephone number for anyone engaged in such work. The UWC also
ordered public houses to close. There was an outbreak of sectarian
One thing that became clear was that the timing of the removal
of barricades by the police was tactically wrong. In many instances
barricades were not removed until people had made an initial attempt
to get to work. Having been turned back first thing in the morning
few people were attempting to travel mid-morning or mid-afternoon
when a number of roads would have been reopened. There were complaints
about a lack of action, particularly to clear obstructions on
roads, on the part of the British Army. The strike was the main
subject of Northern Ireland 'question time' in the House of Commons
at Westminster. Paddy Devlin, a then member of the Executive,
threatens to resign on the issue of interment.
Merlyn Rees, the then Secretary of State, met with Loyalist leaders
in Stormont. Mr Rees said that he would not negotiate with the
Friday 17 May 1974
Day 3 of the UWC strike
Reductions in the supply of electricity continued to have
serious consequences for industry, commerce, and the domestic
sector. In addition to problems in maintaining petrol distribution,
a lack of electricity also meant that pumps did not operate for
substantial periods of each day. Postal delivery services came
to a halt following intimidation of Royal Mail employees. There
were continuing problems in farming and in the distribution of
food supplies. Special arrangements were made by the Northern
Ireland Executive to ensure that payments of welfare benefits
would be delivered to claimants. The car in which Glen Barr, one
of the leaders of the strike, was traveling suffered a mechanical
fault which almost led to a serious accident as he traveled to
Belfast from Derry.
William Craig, the then leader of Ulster Vanguard, criticised
Merlyn Rees, the then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland,
for not negotiating with the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC).
News of car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, Republic of Ireland,
in which 33 people were killed raised the tension in Northern
Ireland. The bombs were later attributed to Loyalist paramilitaries.
The death toll in the bombs remains the highest to occur during
any single day of 'the Troubles'.
Saturday 18 May 1974
Day 4 of the UWC strike
The Ulster Workers' Council (UWC) issued a statement calling
for an all-out stoppage to begin at midnight on Sunday 19 May
1974. The UWC criticised Merlyn Rees, the then Secretary of Sate
for Northern Ireland, for not meeting with leaders of the strike.
Members of the Northern Ireland Executive were told that the Army
could not run the power stations on their own. There were attempts
at negotiation by the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP).
At this stage some people believed that there were grounds for
thinking that the strike might not succeed. Many middle-class
Protestants were against the strike, as were managers, technicians
in power stations, doctors, lawyers, teachers and small shopkeepers.
Sunday 19 May 1974
Day 5 of the UWC strike
Merlyn Rees, the then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland,
announced a State of Emergency (Section 40, Northern Ireland Constitution
Act 1973). Merlyn Rees flew to Chequers, the country home of the
Prime Minister for talks. The United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC)
met and agreed to support the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC). The
UWC withdrew its call for a total stoppage as of midnight. Some
shops reported panic buying.
A memorandum was submitted by the Northern Ireland Labour
Party (NILP) to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) [include TEXT
Monday 20 May 1974
Day 6 of the UWC strike
Many roads in Northern Ireland were closed because of
barricades. Electricity generation dropped to about one-third
of normal levels. People were asked only to use telephones in
an emergency. Five hundred additional troops arrived in Northern
An advertisement [IMAGE] in the News Letter newspaper,
which had been placed by Unionist politicians, called for support
of the strike.
Tuesday 21 May 1974
Day 7 of the UWC strike
Len Murray, the then General Secretary of the Trades Union
Council (TUC), led a 'back-to-work' march [IMAGE] which turned
out to be a fiasco. The march was supported by leading local Trade
Union officials and attempted to lead workers back to the Belfast
shipyard and factories in east Belfast. Only about 200 people
joined the march. The march was flanked by members of the Royal
Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British troops but a hostile crowd
still managed to assault some of those marching.
An updated list [IMAGE PDF] [IMAGE TIF] of those services which were to be allowed through roadblocks and the opening times permitted for shops was issued by the 'Ulster Army Council'.
At Westminster Harold Wilson, the then British Prime Minister,
attacked the strike.
Wednesday 22 May 1974
Day 8 of the UWC strike
In an attempt to resolve the strike the Northern Ireland
Executive agreed to postpone certain sections of the Sunningdale
Agreement until 1977 and to reduce the size of the 'Council of
Ireland'. These proposals were rejected by leaders of the Ulster
Workers' Council (UWC) and other Loyalist leaders. The British
government repeated their stance on not negotiating with the UWC.
John Hume, the then Minister of Commerce, worked on a 'fuel oil
Thursday 23 May 1974
Day 9 of the UWC strike
Security forces removed barricades only to find that they
had been replaced soon after. Workers in Derry were prevented
from going to the Maydown Industrial Estate. Although many schools
managed to operate during the strike it was reported that some
GCE examinations were affected. Gerry Fitt, the then Deputy Chief
Executive, called on the British Government to send troops to
the power stations and the oil refineries.
Northern Ireland question time at Westminster again dealt with
Friday 24 May 1974
Day 10 of the UWC strike
Talks were held at Chequers, the country home of the British
Prime Minister, involving: Harold Wilson, the then British Prime
Minister; Brian Faulkner, the then Chief Executive; Gerry Fitt,
the then Deputy Chief Executive; and Oliver Napier, the then Legal
Minister and Head of the Office of Law Reform. A statement was
issued after the talks stated that there would be no negotiations
with those who operated outside constitutional politics. The British
Government cabinet met later in the day.
Saturday 25 May 1974
Day 11 of the UWC strike
Harold Wilson, the then British Prime Minister, made a broadcast [TEXT] on British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC) television and radio at 10.15pm. The speech proved to be
totally counter-productive. At one point in the speech Wilson
referred to 'spongers' - meaning the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC)
and its supporters. However most Protestants took the reference
as a slight on them. Indeed some Protestants took to wearing
small sponges in their lapels the following day as a gesture of
support for the strike.
Sunday 26 May 1974
Day 12 of the UWC strike
The leaders of the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC) strike
claimed that support was continuing to grow. The UWC also claimed
that its system of permits [IMAGE] was working well in maintaining
'essential services', particularly the supply of petrol. The
British Army arrested more than 30 men in raids on Protestant
areas of Belfast.
Gerry Fitt, the then Deputy Chief Executive, attended a meeting
at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO). The Social Democratic and
Labour Party (SDLP) met at 1 pm. A meeting of Brian Faulkner's
Unionist ministers also took place.
Monday 27 May 1974
Day 13 of the UWC strike
Gas supplies to Belfast and other outlying districts were
affected by a drop in pressure and a warning was issued that consumers
should switch off their supply at the mains. [IMAGE of advertisement
by Belfast City Council Gas Department.] The British Army took
charge of 21 petrol stations throughout Northern Ireland. These
petrol stations were to supply petrol to essential users who could
obtain a permit from the Ministry of Commerce. [Include IMAGE
of Northern Ireland Executive advertisement of emergency arrangements
for the distribution of oil products.]
The Ulster Workers' Council (UWC) retaliated following the take
over of the petrol stations. The UWC announced that the British
Army would have to undertake the supply of all essential services
including basics such as bread and milk. There was a call issued
for workers to stop their assistance in the provision of essential
services. The UWC also stated that the Ballylumford power station,
County Antrim, would close at midnight.
Tuesday 28 May 1974
Day 14 of the UWC strike
The crisis came to a head. Brian Faulkner resigned as
Chief Executive following a refusal by Merlyn Rees, the then Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland, to meet with representatives from
the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC). Faulkner's Unionist colleagues
also resigned. This effectively marked the end of the Northern
A large demonstration of farmers in tractors blocked the entrance
to the Stormont parliament buildings and also much of the Upper
Newtownards Road [PHOTOGRAPH]. News of the collapse of the Northern
Ireland Executive spread to the protestors. Celebrations took
place in Protestant areas across the region.