To the Top of the Agenda, May–August 1969
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This chapter covers the brief period between O’Neill’s resignation and the British government’s decision to intervene at last by sending troops to contain the violence in the Bogside area of Londonderry. The historian Geoffrey Bell has noted that Wilson later called Londonderry ‘the culmination of nearly fifty years of the unimaginative inertia and repression of successive and unchallenged ... Ulster Unionist government’. The Labour government, said Wilson, ‘had to act at the eleventh hour after years of neglect’.2 However, claimed Bell, ‘the Wilson administration of the Sixties was part of that inertia’. Eleventh hour or not Wilson’s own Cabinet ‘had spent five years watching the clock ticking and done nothing’.3 Bell’s analysis of Wilson and his colleagues is largely accurate. However, he goes too far in saying that nothing was done. As this chapter will reveal for the first time, the government had begun, however reluctantly, to prepare for intervention in Ulster during the winter of 1968–9: the ‘10th hour’ perhaps. The main evidence for this is provided by a senior civil servant who retired in 1998. Callaghan, too, over the last 25 years has thrown out some hints of contingency plans made by the government. The question that arises then is not so much why was there no plan for intervention? There was.
KeywordsContingency Plan Labour Government British Government Direct Rule Senior Civil Servant
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