According to Brian Feeney, it was the grim year of 1972 that changed the trajectory of Ted Heath’s Northern Ireland policy from backing Unionists to seeking a long term accomodation with the Catholic minority. In the end he seems to have suffered the worst of both worlds. In Feeney’s view, he ended up being resented by both sides.
When Heath did become involved, however, there was no doubt where he laid the blame for the events of the previous two years. Stormont unionists had had their chance. All the advice they had pressed on him had been wrong. He took more radical action than anyone had imagined. He involved the Irish government for the first time since 1922. Heath broke generations of Conservative policy by ending positive support for the Union.
He declared that Irish unity was a legitimate aspiration and if “at some future date a majority of the people of Northern Ireland want unification I do not believe the British government would stand in the way”. He abolished Stormont and unionists have never forgiven him just as nationalists never forgave him for internment and Bloody Sunday.
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