Background: North suffered political deadlock as violence continued in 1983

Boycotts turned Stormont Assembly and New Ireland Forum into talking shops

John Hume,  Garret FitzGerald, Charles Haughey and  Dick Spring meet in March 1983 to discuss the New Ireland Forum. Photograph: Peter Thursfield/The Irish Times

John Hume, Garret FitzGerald, Charles Haughey and Dick Spring meet in March 1983 to discuss the New Ireland Forum. Photograph: Peter Thursfield/The Irish Times

Fri, Dec 27, 2013, 01:00

The papers released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland for the years 1983 and 1984 show there were two “talking shops” in Belfast and Dublin.

The Northern Ireland Assembly in 1983-84 was no more than a unionist talking shop. On January 30th, 1983 the SDLP confirmed it would not attend and instead put its faith in Garret FitzGerald’s New Ireland Forum in Dublin. But since unionists decided to stay away from that forum, it was also no more than a constitutional nationalist talking shop.

Margaret Thatcher, re-elected in the June 1983 general election, reappointed Jim Prior as Northern secretary – a bed of nails transferred to Douglas Hurd in September 1984. In the 1983 election, the unseating of Gerry Fitt (the former SDLP leader now standing as an independent) by Gerry Adams shocked many.

For Whitehall, the bigger shock was that Sinn Féin, with 13.4 per cent of the overall poll, was not far behind the SDLP, which received 17.9 per cent.

The Northern violence continued to kill, maim and destroy. Catholics serving in the more sensitive parts of the public service were in constant peril. IRA victims included Judge William Doyle, shot dead by the IRA while leaving St Brigid’s church in south Belfast on January 16th, 1983. The magistrate Tom Travers was shot by the IRA leaving the same church on April 8th, 1984: he survived but his daughter Mary, caught in the hail of bullets, did not. The IRA also assassinated Edgar Graham, a leading UUP Assembly member on December 7th, 1983.

A particularly horrifying attack was the work of the INLA. On November 20th, 1983, at a Sunday evening service at Darkley Pentecostal Church, south Armagh, a congregation of 60 was singing Are you Washed in the Blood of the Lamb? when gunshots riddled the wooden building killing three church elders and inflicting severe injuries on others.


Jonathan Bardon is
a historian