Craig, William ('Bill') (1924–2011), politician, was born on 2 December 1924 at Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, son of John Craig, bank manager, and his wife Mary Kathleen (née Lamont). Educated at the Royal School Dungannon and Larne Grammar School, he joined the RAF in 1943 and served as a rear-gunner in Bomber Command. After the war he studied law at Queen's University Belfast and qualified as a solicitor in 1952, setting up a practice in Lurgan, Co. Armagh. At university he founded the Queen's University Unionist Association. He was a prominent member of the Ulster Young Unionist Council, holding the position of chairman (1953–60).
Modernising MP and minister Craig first stood for election, unsuccessfully, in the Stormont general election of 1958, in the predominantly catholic constituency of Belfast Central against Frank Hanna (qv), the sitting independent labour MP. In his next electoral foray, a by-election for the safe UUP seat of Larne in February 1960, he was returned unopposed. He was an energetic representative of a group of younger, professional Unionists who wanted to push the party beyond the staid and parochial image of the Brookeborough (qv) years. A champion of economic and social modernisation, he obtained his first government appointment as chief whip in March 1963. In that position he played an important role in easing the path for Terence O'Neill (qv) to become prime minister, and was awarded with the post of minister of home affairs in April 1963.
At Home Affairs he soon acquired a reputation for his forceful responses to criticism from those he saw as obstacles to the province's modernisation. Foremost was the trade-union movement. He blamed the unions for the unwillingness of unemployed workers to retrain or to travel to find work. When the unions demanded an apology, his response was to tell them to 'take a running jump from a great height'. A champion of expanding the province's road system, he described train transport as being as obsolete as the stagecoach. His obliviousness to possible adverse local reactions was evident in his plan for the proposed M1 motorway to go through the centre of Dungannon. Only the vigorous lobbying of the two MPs for the area, John Taylor of the UUP and Austin Currie of the nationalist party, had the 'through-pass' replaced by a by-pass. Craig implemented the Benson report into the loss-making railways run by the Ulster Transport Authority, shutting one of the two railway lines to Derry city, and in the process enraging unionists and nationalists west of the River Bann.
The youngest member of the cabinet, Craig was described by an O'Neill ally as the 'battering ram' necessary to deal with resistance from parochial vested interests to O'Neill's plans for the transformation of Northern Ireland. In July 1964 Craig moved from Home Affairs to a new Ministry of Health and Local Government, in which was concentrated powers over planning, transport, roads, local government and housing. He was moved again, in January 1965, to a new 'super' Ministry of Development, with the task of implementing a strategy of concentrating development in a new city located between Lurgan and Portadown, and a number of other 'growth centres'. For nationalists, and many unionists in the west of the province, the strategy seemed to prioritise the province's eastern, protestant heartland. Nationalists were outraged by the decision to name the city 'Craigavon' after the first prime minister of Northern Ireland. Craig and O'Neill also became the butt of much criticism from UUP councillors for their 'dictatorial' encroachments on the powers of local government. In October 1966 Craig was moved back to Home Affairs. This came after a seven-hour meeting of the Unionist parliamentary party at which the existing minister was criticised for weakness in dealing with republican parades, while Craig came under severe criticism over his planning policies. The move, which came after a leadership crisis in which Craig had supported O'Neill, was seen by some as an effective demotion and a source of resentment and bitterness on Craig's part.
Sectarian tensions By this time, the optimistic, ecumenical atmosphere of the early 1960s was being overshadowed by the emergence of more traditional lines of division. Craig was notable for his declared support for catholic membership of the Unionist Party, but like many liberal unionists saw nationalism and the catholic church as reactionary obstacles preventing catholics from playing a full role in the political and socio-economic life of the province. In a speech in 1964, he blamed the economic problems of the catholic community on their church's teaching on contraception, which produced large families and children ill-equipped to take their place in modern society. From this perspective, the problem lay in the catholic community, and charges of discrimination were baseless. As minister of home affairs he defended the existing rate-payers' franchise in local government elections, and used the government's decision to launch a review of local government structures to argue that any changes to the franchise could only come after the whole system had been reformed.
During his first period in Home Affairs, Craig had notified the house of commons that security in the province was being strengthened after reports of drilling by illegal organisations in the Republic. After the Divis Street riots of 1964 and the large republican commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter 1916 rising, he accepted RUC advice of heavy republican involvement in the formation and subsequent activities of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). In March 1967 he used the special powers act to ban the recently formed Republican Clubs and the proposed attempts to organise centenary commemorations of the Fenian rising. In response, students at Queen's formed their own Republican Club, and in November 1967 some 1,000 marched from the university to Craig's home to protest the ban. In an augury of what was to come, supporters of the Rev. Ian Paisley (qv) organised a counter-demonstration, and Gerry Fitt (qv), recently elected to Westminster, tabled a motion regretting the parliamentary convention that prevented MPs questioning the home secretary about the ban.
The civil rights challenge Craig's real problem was not dealing with the traditional republican threat to the state, but with a civil rights movement that claimed only to want 'British rights for British citizens' who lived in Northern Ireland. In December 1966 the government had ignored representations from the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for electoral reform and boundary revisions in both Stormont and local government elections, and for measures against discrimination in employment and the allocation of public housing.
Reiterating his defence of the rate-payers' franchise for local government elections, Craig also dismissed claims of discrimination and the broader civil rights agenda as a cloak for a subversive, anti-partitionist agenda. As a recent study of republican strategy in the period has demonstrated, the leadership of the IRA was deeply involved in the establishment of NICRA and, at the first major civil rights march, from Coalisland to Dungannon, the RUC noted that a large number of known republicans took part and IRA volunteers were responsible for the stewarding. Thus, although the civil rights demands were reformist and non-sectarian, the fact that the vast majority of the marchers were catholics and that the Irish national anthem was sung at the end only served to encourage Paisleyite and right-wing UUP opposition to the movement.
Craig's decision to put restrictions on a proposed civil rights march in Derry on 5 October 1968 – leading to confrontations between some of the marchers and the RUC, and televised scenes of police officers batoning fleeing protesters and of bystanders being hosed down by water cannon – was criticised by the subsequent Cameron commission, and has been seen by some as the precipitant of the Northern Ireland troubles. It is more accurate to point not to the police violence itself, but rather to Craig's stiff-necked defence of it and his resistance to reform as factors that served to radicalise catholic opposition to the state.
Craig opposed the increasing pressure for reform from the British prime minister, Harold Wilson, and his home secretary, James Callaghan. In this he was increasingly at odds with O'Neill. In March 1967 Craig dismissed the idea that section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, provided for the possibility of involvement by Westminster in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. He pledged mass resistance to any such interference. O'Neill argued that section 75 meant that Westminster had supreme legislative authority in Northern Ireland. Craig referred to the work of constitutional legal expert J. H. Newark of QUB, who argued that, apart from 'excluded' and 'reserved' matters, the Northern Ireland parliament was a sovereign parliament. In cabinet both Craig and Brian Faulkner (qv), minister of commerce, opposed introducing reforms at the behest of Westminster, and Craig publicly expressed his lack of enthusiasm for a limited package of reforms announced in November 1968. When he continued to articulate these views after O'Neill's 'crossroads' television broadcast of 9 December 1968, he was sacked from his ministry, ostensibly for his support for a unilateral declaration of independence from the UK. By this time he was only one of many open critics of O'Neill from within the Unionist Party and the Orange order who were blaming O'Neill for capitulating to Wilson and to a civil rights movement that Craig denounced as a 'campaign of denigration, defamation, wreckless allegation [sic]' (Stormont debates, 4 December 1968).
UUP hardliner Although the increasing opposition to O'Neill within the UUP and the Orange order led to his resignation (28 April 1969), his successor, Major James Chichester-Clark (qv), maintained a reformist agenda with the publication of a white paper to reform radically local government. Craig opposed the reforms and demanded the purging of any remaining O'Neillites from the government. Along with Harry West (qv), the former minister of agriculture and key spokesman for border Unionists aghast at the prospect of losing their local-government fiefdoms, Craig was in the vanguard of opposition to change. This opposition reached fever pitch after the violence in Belfast and Derry in August 1969 led to the arrival of British troops on the streets, and Westminster imposed reform of the state's security apparatuses. The Hunt report, which proposed the reform and disarming of the RUC and the abolition of the B Specials, deepened intra-Unionist divisions. In March 1970 Craig and three other Unionist MPs were expelled from the parliamentary party for voting against the legislation implementing the recommendations of the Hunt report. He was also in the forefront of opposition to the proposals of the Macrory report for a reduction of the number of local councils from seventy-three to twenty-six.
By this time the radicalisation of nationalist opposition, something to which Craig's obduracy had contributed, was taking a violent form in the increasing actions of the Official and Provisional IRAs. As shootings and bombings increased, Craig blamed Westminster interference for hindering a robust response to republican violence. As the security situation deteriorated in early 1971, forcing the resignation of Chichester-Clark, Craig stood against Brian Faulkner in the election for a new leader, losing decisively by 26 to 4 votes. Craig was readmitted to the parliamentary party and declared he would do what he could to maintain party unity.
Ulster Vanguard: from movement to party The introduction of internment without trial in August 1971 produced a qualitative leap in the level of violence, and Craig was soon joining with Ian Paisley to demand a 'third force' to assist the army and the RUC. Both men addressed crowds of working-class loyalists, many of whom were members of a newly formed protestant paramilitary organisation, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). However, whilst Paisley and the former Unionist MP Desmond Boal (qv) formed the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and began to support integration of Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK, Craig launched Ulster Vanguard in February 1972 as a pan-unionist alliance to resist the imminent threat of direct rule by Westminster. Such a move on the part of the British government without the consent of the Northern Ireland parliament would, he claimed, be a violation of Northern Ireland's constitution and justify Ulster loyalists establishing an independent British Ulster. Drawing in the support of industrial militants from the Loyalist Association of Workers as well as thousands of members of the UDA, the initial phase of Vanguard was a series of rallies across Northern Ireland, culminating in a 60,000-strong rally in Belfast's Ormeau Park (18 March), at which Craig warned that 'if and when the politicians fail us, it may be our duty to liquidate the enemy' (Newsletter, 20 March 1972). Craig and Vanguard called for a two-day, province-wide strike in protest at the suspension of Stormont, and an estimated 200,000 responded (28 March). When Craig addressed 100,000 protesters from the balcony of parliament buildings, he was joined by Faulkner and the rest of the defunct cabinet.
But the unity of anger and protest did not endure. As it became clear that Faulkner and his supporters were willing to accept the British government's proposals for a restoration of devolution based on power-sharing and an Irish dimension, Craig moved towards establishing Vanguard as an independent political party, and the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP) was founded in April 1973. In the process he lost the support of prominent right-wing Unionists like the grand master of the Orange order, Martin Smyth, who wished to recapture the party from Faulkner. Craig's hyperbolic and violent rhetoric led government officials to give serious consideration to whether criminal charges of sedition, or even treason, might be brought against him. He informed a meeting of the right-wing Monday Club at the house of commons in October 1972 that he could mobilise 80,000 men if the British government tried to impose a settlement on loyalists: '…they are prepared to shoot to kill. Let us put bluff aside. I am prepared to kill and those behind me have my full support' (Fortnight, 20 October 1972). Craig was also damaged by his support for a one-day loyalist strike (called in protest at the first internment of protestants), during which there was violence and five people died (February 1973).
Despite this, he entered into talks with the leaders of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) around his proposals for an independent dominion of Ulster with 'power-sharing within a majority framework'. Apart from the negative reaction of many of his supporters to any idea of collaboration with the very politicians they blamed for sparking the crisis in the first place, Craig and Vanguard faced the formidable problem of persuading the mass of working-class protestants that an independent Ulster would be able to maintain UK levels of health and social welfare expenditure given the substantial degree to which the province was financially subsidised by HM Treasury. For a while, his links with loyalist industrial militants and paramilitaries, and the breadth of unionist opposition to 'imposed' power-sharing with the SDLP, sustained Vanguard, which played a central role in the Ulster Workers' Council strike which destroyed the power-sharing NI executive in May 1974. Vanguard won almost the same share of the vote as did the DUP in the NI Assembly elections (June 1973), and broadly maintained that support in the elections for the NI Constitutional Convention (May 1975).
Political marginalisation; later career Craig had been returned as MP for Belfast East in the UK general election of February 1974 as part of the anti-power-sharing coalition, the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC). He astounded many observers (and not a few colleagues) when in September 1975 he suggested that the UUUC parties in the Constitutional Convention agree a power-sharing coalition with the SDLP for the duration of the 'emergency' that the province was enduring. According to David Trimble, Craig told him that he became convinced that the only solution was voluntary coalition after he and John Taylor had a meeting with John Hume and Austin Currie in 1972. The proposal was opposed by Paisley, the vast majority of the UUUC Convention members, and a majority of the VUPP Convention members, although Vanguard's central council supported it. When Craig continued with talks with the SDLP, he was expelled from the UUUC. Nine of the fourteen VUPP Convention members seceded to form a new party, the United Ulster Unionist Movement. Craig's time as a key figure in unionist and loyalist politics was over; he was readmitted to the UUP, but narrowly lost his Belfast East seat to Peter Robinson of the DUP in the 1979 Westminster elections.
Having returned to his legal practice, Craig was injured when an IRA car bomb exploded outside his office in Banbridge, Co. Down, in March 1982; a boy of 11 was killed in the explosion, and fourteen people were injured, including Craig's secretary, who lost her legs. Despite this, Craig attempted to re-establish Vanguard, and stood in Belfast East in the NI Assembly elections of October 1982, obtaining 2,274 votes to poll-topper Peter Robinson's 15,319, and failing to win one of the six seats under proportional representation. From thence, he was confined to occasional comments about the lack of imagination among the leadership of Ulster unionism, and the need to develop a more positive relationship with Dublin, a line of argument that vanished with the Anglo–Irish agreement of 1985, although it did re-emerge in 1995 when his one-time Vanguard acolyte, David Trimble, became UUP leader. In 1993 Craig defended the RUC's behaviour on 5 October 1968, adding only that he would have intensified it. In 2000 he supported the former Vanguard press officer David Burnside as the UUP by-election candidate for the Westminster constituency of Antrim South, which Burnside lost to the Rev. William McCrea of the DUP. Despite recent attempts to rehabilitate Craig's reputation by reference to his willingness to propose a reconstitution of the British state along federalist lines, it is his role as the personification of a tough and unbending response to the civil rights movement that will continue, justly, to determine evaluations of his political career.
Craig married (1960) Doris Hilgendorff, whom he had met on holiday in Majorca; she had grown up in Mecklenburg on the north German coast during the heavy allied bombing campaigns of 1945. She taught German in the extra-mural department at QUB and was later head of languages. Their two sons both served in the RUC. After suffering a stroke, William Craig died at the Ulster Hospital in the Belfast suburb of Dundrum, Co. Down, on 24 April 2011, and was survived by his wife and sons.