After a succession of junior offices, Captain O'Neill, as he was known, became Minister for Finance in 1956 and in 1963 succeeded Brookeborough as Prime Minister. His policies were new: to attract investment to the ailing shipbuilding and linen industries, to forge new links with the trade unions, to bring Protestants and Catholics into working relationships, and to end sectarianism and the long injustice of Protestant rule. A historic event was the visit of Seán Lemass to Belfast, at O'Neill's invitation, in January 1965, the first such contact since partition. He met opposition from within his own party and was attacked by Ian Paisley, then emerging as a leader in the entrenched opposition to any concessions to Catholics.
When the civil rights campaign began in 1968, peaceful demonstrations were met with violence, and a dormant IRA became revitalised as Catholics sought for protection. The violence intensified, and O'Neill called a snap general election in February 1969, warning that Northern Ireland was at the crossroads. No mandate for reform resulted, and he resigned soon after and retired to a quiet country life in England.
I have brought together of how Captain T. O'Neill dealt with the controversy of being prime minister and how he dealt with the situations above.
On the 15th November 1945 all the nationalists mps and senators, together with around 500 other delegates, met in Dungannon. There they formed the Irish Anti-Partition League, 'with the object of uniting all those opposed to partition into a solid block'. The Nationalists abandoned their erratic abstentionism of the inter-war years, and soon had the enthusiastic backing of de Valera and Irish organisations in Britain and America. During the crises of the Cold War, however, they found it difficult to arouse international interest.
Then in 1949 the Taoiseach, John A Costello, announced that Eire would become the Republic of Ireland. Brooke seized the opportunity to strengthen Unionist representation in an election, and the raising of money in the south at chapel gates for Anti-Partition League candidates reinforced his warnings that the Union was in peril.
Prime Minister Clement Attlee gave him the guarantee he sought in the Ireland Act of 1949 that 'in no event will Northern Ireland cease to be part of his Majesty's dominions and of the United Kingdom without the consent of the parliament of Northern Ireland'. The IRA launched a campaign in November 1956 against barracks and other installations along the border. It continued fitfully until February 1962 without achieving any major objective - indeed it strengthened Brookeborough's argument that the Union was always in danger.
Following criticisms that he was not doing enough to stimulate Northern Ireland's economy, Brookeborough resigned in 1963. Captain Terence O'Neill, who had been Minister of Finance, replaced him. O'Neill stated at Stormont that his principal aims were 'to make Northern Ireland economically stronger and prosperous... and to build bridges between the two traditions within our community'.
Dedicated though he was to the constitutional status quo, O'Neill was the first Northern Ireland prime minister to state clearly that reconciliation was a central part of his programme. He went out of his way to visit Catholic schools. to be photographed in the presence of nuns, and to make mould-breaking gestures of conciliation. He was fortunate in being able to launch his economic programme at a time when world-trading conditions were buoyant, and when the Republic of Ireland was not only transforming its economy but also seeking friendlier co-operation with the United Kingdom.
Sean Lemass, Taoiseach since 1959, abandoned the overt...