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Sunningdale: Trundling On

Connal Parr writes: As an historian, as well as the grandson of one of the founding members of the SDLP (Paddy Devlin), I would like to add briefly to Hugh Logue’s recent exchange with John Swift, published in the Dublin Review of Books blog https://drb.ie/blog/the-critics/2020/05/05/sunningdale-and-the-council-of-ireland-an-exchange

Hugh should be aware that, whatever his equivocations, his quote was seized on by Loyalists opposed to Sunningdale and the power-sharing Executive. It was a serious misstep because it allowed such Unionists, some of whom did indeed object to power-sharing in and of itself, to justify their rejection of Sunningdale. Politics so often concerns framing, optics, persuasion and delivery. It was a gift to those who said ‘no’, and to this extent Swift was correct to pinpoint the speech in his initial review.

On May 19th, 2014, a conference on the UWC Strike took place at Queen’s University Belfast, with speakers including the late Glenn Barr (de facto leader of the stoppage), Ken Bloomfield, the late Maurice Hayes, Austin Currie and Nell McCafferty among others. As a co-organiser of the event, I arranged for the recording of the talks and discussions that followed, during which Barr commented:

Every time I got into any form of difficulty with the television interviewers about the Council of Ireland meaning nothing, I just used to point towards Hugh Logue. I said why don’t you ask Hugh Logue what the Council of Ireland means to him? It’s the ‘vehicle that’s going to trundle Unionists into a United Ireland’.

With characteristic insight and humour, Maurice Hayes immediately followed:

You know the interesting thing I often thought about that Glenny? Brian Faulkner came back from Sunningdale and said this was our bulwark for the Unionist people; “our bulwark” against being sucked into a united Ireland. Then Hugh Logue came out and said this is “the vehicle that will trundle us into a united Ireland” [sic]. You know the sad thing about it is? The Catholics believed Faulkner and the Loyalists believed Hugh Logue! (laughter). (Recordings available - https://sluggerotoole.com/2014/05/22/ulster-workers-council-strike-the-strike-which-brought-down-sunningdale/

For what it’s worth, my grandfather was the SDLP minister most wary of the Council of Ireland, in large part because he was aware that it would weaken Faulkner’s ability to sell the agreement to the Unionist base: “Look, we’ve got to catch ourselves on here. Brian Faulkner is being nailed to a cross. There is no way Faulkner can sell this” (Paddy Devlin, quoted in Barry White, John Hume [1984], p152). Hugh’s comment demonstrably made Faulkner’s position harder, hampering the settlement that Faulkner, Hume and my grandfather, among many others, helped negotiate.

1973 in Northern Ireland was a trying time for anyone, especially in public life. It is understandable that errors were made on all sides. As a man with a distinguished career of public service, Hugh Logue should be able to own his historical mistake.

See also https://drb.ie/blog/comment/2020/04/22/sf-and-violence-an-exchange