Northern Ireland

Loyalists Threaten Civil War and ‘Coup’ – On This Day in 1974

Statement by ‘Ulster Army Council’ comes days before start of Ulster Workers’ Council strike

Masked members of the UDA manning a barricade on the Shankill Road in Belfast in June 1972
Masked members of the UDA manning a barricade on the Shankill Road in Belfast in June 1972. Picture: David Lomax/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images (David Lomax/Getty Images)
May 14 1974

A statement by the Ulster Army Council, the co-ordinating organisation for groups like the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, warned that a coup would be staged in Northern Ireland unless another election was held here.

The UAC said: “Should the Sunningdale agreement be ratified and any citizen of Northern Ireland be placed under the jurisdiction of a foreign court other than for deeds committed in that foreign country, then we shall regard those actions as tantamount to the declaration of a united Ireland.”

They said that the ingredients for a civil war had existed in Northern Ireland since the imposition of direct rule. “It has been the restraint shown by the paramilitary organisations that has prevented such a catastrophe from becoming a reality.”

The statement went on: “We consider it necessary to warn Her Majesty’s Government that they are now playing with the straw that could break the camel’s back. To the rest of the province we give due notice that the decision to re-assert normal democratic processes, whereby the rights of the majority are the norms by which a state is run, is long overdue.

“Such democratic procedures can be restored by the calling of an Assembly election in which the various nationalist parties will have to take their chance of being in a coalition government along with that of the other parties participating.”

The statement said: “If Westminster is not prepared to restore democracy, that is, the will of the people made clear in an election, then the only other way it can be restored is by a coup d’etat. Such a coup d’etat can only mean a civil war under the conditions already outlined.”

Earlier in their statement, the Council said that the restraint shown by paramilitary organisations had been interpreted as a sign of weakness.

“Our members accepted our counsel, a fact for which we are indeed grateful since we have no desire to plunge our people into a civil war, the very nature of which means that it would be fought without quarter being given or expected,” said the statement.

“To fight on any other basis would be merely to put the next generation in the same position as we are to-day with possibly less chance of being successful.”

Just days before the Ulster Workers’ Council strike begins, loyalists threaten a coup d’etat unless Sunningdale is revoked and elections held to the Northern Assembly.