An internal report about an incident in the Assembly chamber in Parliament Buildings nearly 43 years ago on 22 January 1974. File ANI-10-110 has finally been released for anyone to read in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. [Full contents are also in this handy PDF!]
In the slim buff file is a letter from the Sergeant-at-Arms John Cartillon to the Clerk of the Assembly Ronnie Blackburn detailing the disruption caused by elected members and the police response.
In light of threats made to disrupt proceedings, “considerable RUC reinforcements had been provided to deal with possible disturbance either in the Chamber, in the Visitors’ Gallery or both at the same time”.
Immediately after prayers a point of order caused the Speaker to order members to vacate the seats reserved for members of the Executive that they had misappropriated. When the Speaker refused to accept a point of order from Ian Paisley “a number of Members rose to protest and uproar commenced”.
The Sergeant-at-Arms recalls:
Mr Beattie snatching the mace from the table, passing it to another Member … who tossed it to another Member, when it was shortly afterward intercepted by one of the Doorkeepers who brought it to me …
Professor Lindsay jumping on the table and carrying on, what I can only describe as a “war dance” on the table, shouting the while to press and visitors’ galleries.
Assembly business was suspended and named members were asked to leave the Chamber “in accordance with Mr Speaker’s ruling”.
I then approached Dr Paisley and put the same question to him. He said that he would have nothing to do with me and would have to be put out by the British Army.
The Sergeant-at-Arms was jostled and told by a member “if you don’t get out quick you will get hurt”. The visitors gallery was cleared before forced removals were attempted. When Ian Paisley once again refused to leave “I then asked Superintendent Gray to carry on as arranged using whatever force was necessary”.
I also remember seeing Dr Paisley and other Members seizing the Clerks Chairs and placing these as some sort of barricade.
Police reinforcements entered the chamber.
I remember at this stage noticing Dr Paisley, Mr Beattie and Professor Lindsay violently resisting the police. I was later informed, but did not myself observe, that Professor Lindsay had chained himself to one of the benches. I did however see the Professor hurl this chain, which was about 6 foot long and similar to that used for mooring a motor cruiser in the general direction of the Clerk Assistant and I.
The named members were evicted but were replaced in the usurped front bench by other supporters of Ian Paisley. This cycle of resistance and eviction continued for several rounds.
Once more Mr Speaker took the Chair and Mrs Paisley attempted to raise points of order from one of the back benches. When Mrs Paisley refused to accept his ruling, Mr Speaker ordered her to be removed from the Chamber. After she had refused to accompany me out of the Chamber, she was eventually at my request, escorted out by Royal Ulster Constabulary women constables.
An appendix lists the eighteen members who were asked to leave the chamber:
- all 8 elected members of the DUP;
- 5 of the 7 Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party members;
- all 3 West Belfast Loyalist Coalition members; and
- 2 from the Ulster Unionist Party.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.