Prime minister O’Neill on marches and violence (1969)




On January 5th 1969 the Northern Ireland prime minister, Terence O’Neill, issued a statement regarding the People’s Democracy march and the ensuing violence in Burntollet and Derry:

“I want the people of Ulster to understand in plain terms [the] events which have taken place since January 1st. The march to Londonderry planned by the People’s Democracy was, from the outset, a foolhardy and irresponsible undertaking. At best, those who planned it were careless of the effects it would have; at worst, they embraced with enthusiasm the prospect of adverse publicity causing further damage to the interests of Northern Ireland as a whole…

Clearly Ulster has now had enough, We are all sick of marchers and counter-marchers. Unless these warring minorities rapidly return to their senses we will have to consider a further reinforcement of the regular police by greater use of the Special Constabulary for normal police duties…

I think we must also have an urgent look at the Public Order Act itself to see whether we ought to ask Parliament for further powers to control those elements which are seeking to hold the entire community to ransom.

Enough is enough. We have heard sufficient for now about civil rights, let us hear a little about civic responsibility. For it is a short step from the throwing of paving stones to the laying of tombstones – and I for one can think of no cause in Ulster today which will be advanced by the death of a single Ulsterman.”