Terence O’Neill: Ulster stands at the crossroads (1968)

On December 9th 1968 prime minister Terence O’Neill appeared on Northern Ireland television. O’Neill gave an impassioned plea for unity and a foreboding warning about the future, declaring that “Ulster stands at the crossroads”:

“Ulster stands at the crossroads.

I believe you know me well enough to appreciate that I am not a man given to extravagant language. But I must say to you this evening that our conduct over the coming days and weeks will decide our future. And as we face this situation, I would be failing in my duty, to you as your prime minister, if I did not put the issues calmly and clearly before you all.

These issues are far too serious to be determined behind closed doors, or left to noisy minorities. The time has come for the people as a whole to speak in a clear voice.

For more than six years now I have tried to heal some of the deep divisions in our communities. I did so because I could not see how an Ulster divided against itself could not hope to stand. I made it clear that an Northern Ireland based on the interests of any one section, rather than on the interests of all, could have no long term future…

What kind of Ulster do you want? A happy and respected province, in good standing with the rest of the United Kingdom? Or a place continually torn apart by riots and demonstrations, regarded by the rest of Britain as a political outcast?

As always in a democracy, the choice is yours.

I will accept whatever your verdict may be. If it is your decision to live up to the words ‘Ulster is British’, which is part of our creed, then my services will be at your disposal to do what I can.

But if you should want a separate, inward-looking, selfish and divided Ulster, then you must seek for others to lead you along that road. For I cannot and will not do it.

Please weigh well all that is at stake and make your voice heard in whatever way you think best, so that we may know the views not of the few, but of the many.”