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O'Neill, Terence, Lord O'Neill of the Maine

O'Neill, Terence, Lord O'Neill of the Maine (1914–90). Prime minister of Northern Ireland (1963–9). O'Neill, who saw himself as a modernizer, was keen to promote economic development within Northern Ireland, and to address the traditional hostility between unionist and nationalist, and between Belfast and Dublin: he welcomed Sean Lemass, the taoiseach (prime minister) of the Republic of Ireland, to Belfast in January 1965, the first such official visit since partition. However, he alienated hard-line loyalists without offering substantive concessions to the Ulster catholics. The rise of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (founded in January 1967) brought further pressure on O'Neill. In November 1968 he conceded a five-point reform programme, but this satisfied neither the NICRA activists nor many of his unionist colleagues. He held an election in February 1969 in order to test his strength, but inadvertently intensified the divisions within his party. On 28 April 1969, against the background of a splintering unionism and relentless NICRA pressure, he resigned. O'Neill was a well-intentioned, if paternalistic, leader. Like Harold Wilson he was strong on the rhetoric of modernization; like Wilson he was susceptible to conspiratorial fantasies.

Alvin Jackson

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