Long, William Joseph (1922–2008), politician and fisherman, was born 23 April 1922 in Stockton-on-Tees, England, the son of William Long and his wife Frederica (née Walker). He received his secondary education in Friends' School, Great Ayton (North Yorkshire), an agriculturally-oriented quaker boarding school (though Long was a presbyterian and his education sponsored by the British army) near the port of Whitby, where he developed a lifelong fascination with the sea. He originally wished to be a vet but (possibly because of family pressure) left the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh after eighteen months and entered the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. In 1940 he received a commission in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and was posted to Northern Ireland, where in 1942 he married Doreen Mercer, a local doctor; they had one son.
Settles in Northern Ireland: local government Long settled in Northern Ireland on leaving the army (with the rank of captain) in 1948. He became a social worker, serving as secretary of the Northern Ireland Marriage Guidance Council (1948–51) and the Northern Ireland Chest and Heart Association (1951–4), and lived in the small seaport of Donaghadee in north-east Co. Down. He was an active sea angler and supported long-distance swimming, serving as navigator on several attempts to swim the North Channel between Ulster and Scotland.
As a founder member of Donaghadee Cricket Club, Long stood successfully for Donaghadee Urban District Council in 1952 to help the club obtain land for a pitch; he became active in the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), and joined the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys of Derry. During the era of Terence O'Neill (qv), his speeches at 12 July demonstrations in north Down were described as 'ecumenical' by a sympathetic observer. He devoted much attention to problems facing local fishermen (the Ards peninsula and the neighbouring Lecale district contained Northern Ireland's main fishing ports). Long was chairman of Donaghadee UDC (1955–64) and thus ex officio member of Down County Council, serving on its health and education committees.
Enters parliament: O'Neillite junior minister In 1962, Long became Stormont MP for Ards, defeating the Liberal candidate Albert McElroy (qv) by 7,501 votes to 3,008. As a backbencher he drew attention by describing the dismissal of 2,000 workers by the Harland and Wolff shipyard as 'capital punishment'. On 22 July 1964 he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Department of Agriculture, with special responsibility for fisheries; this was seen as unusually rapid advancement, probably reflecting his administrative experience. He oversaw a major Fisheries Act (1966), consolidating twenty-three acts dating back to 1842 and replacing archaic and clumsy regulatory bodies with a single Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland. In 1965, as cross-border cooperation developed, he met James Gibbons (qv) to discuss arterial drainage along the border, and George Colley (qv) and Charles Haughey (qv) to discuss fisheries.
Long aligned himself with Terence O'Neill's advocacy of Stormont as a local technocracy showing the benefits of regional government. His combination of a military background and social-work experience presented him as a combination of new and old forms of authority, while his persona as a phlegmatic, pipe-smoking Yorkshireman, somewhat removed from Northern Ireland's hereditary conflicts and English without being too patrician, gave more leeway in negotiations with nationalists than might have been conceded to an Ulsterman. The left-republican MP Bernadette Devlin later jeered at Long as 'the water-carrying Boy Scout of the Unionist Party … his sole function seemed to be to carry a message … to people outside the party because he was the only person who looked honest enough to be believed' (Hansard 5 (Commons), dccxcii (25 November 1969), col. 289).
In the 1965 general election Long held Ards with an increased majority against an NILP candidate. On 6 December 1965 he became senior parliamentary secretary at the newly created Ministry of Development, with special responsibility for housing and sharing with his minister, William Craig (1924–2011), responsibility for a planned restructuring of local government, a measure central to the O'Neillite promise of modernity and reconciliation.
Minister of Education: 1968 Education Act On 7 October 1966, Long was appointed minister of education and sworn of the Northern Ireland privy council. His major achievement was the passage of the 1968 Education Act which increased state capital funding for catholic schools (from 65 to 80 per cent) and provided an increased proportion of the running costs in return for the replacement of undivided managerial control by 'four and two' governing committees (four members appointed by the manager, two by the local education board). In private, Long stated that he wished to break clerical control of schools as a step towards a modernised and religiously integrated education system. The prospect of a lightened financial burden, and a downplaying of denominational divisions as a result of the second Vatican council and O'Neill's conciliatory gestures, meant that catholic laity generally welcomed the act and the catholic bishops, headed by Cardinal Conway (qv), thus accepted the 'four and two' principle which their predecessors had resisted.
However, Long's refusal to agree that state representatives on school committees should be appointed by the minister of education (seen as more impartial than unionist-controlled local councils) aroused particular criticism from nationalists and liberals, and was widely attributed to hard-line unionist pressure. (Long argued that to create a new administrative system for catholic schools would open new divisions and that the act needed to allow for flexible responses to experience; he later published non-legislative official guidelines intended to meet catholic concerns.) The act was one of the major, though belated, achievements of O'Neillism; Long skilfully balanced opposition critics (who accepted his personal good intentions) and hard-line backbenchers and avoided the sort of bitter conflicts produced by previous education legislation.
As education minister Long was involved in controversy over siting the New University of Ulster (NUU) at Coleraine rather than Derry city, and in negotiations with the presbyterian church over Magee College in Derry (eventually merged with NUU, with some specifically presbyterian endowments transferred to Assembly's College in Belfast). His position also brought contact with the radical student movement, People's Democracy (PD), which emerged at Queen's University of Belfast (QUB) towards the end of 1968. On 9–10 October, Long attended a lengthy civil rights meeting at QUB to explain the government's position and submitted to extensive questioning; he later described the experience as 'a good laugh'. On 24 October he held further discussions with students staging a sit-in at the central hall of Stormont. This incident was denounced by the ultra-loyalist Ian Paisley (qv) as encouraging the protestors, and appears to have convinced the PD that they could provoke the government further.
Ulster at the crossroads: Minister of Home Affairs and Burntollet incident Long was appointed to succeed the hard-liner William Craig as minister of home affairs on 19 December 1968. On 1 January 1969, members of People's Democracy set out on a civil rights march from Belfast to Derry calling for the immediate implementation of one man-one vote in local government. They had previously sent a delegation to Stormont on 20 December 1968 where they spent two hours discussing the march with Long, but dismissed his appeal to allow a period of calm. Hard-line loyalists led by Major Ronald Bunting denounced Long for not banning the march and organised aggressive counter-demonstrations (which Bunting and Ian Paisley equivocally disavowed when meeting Long at Stormont on 3 January), culminating in a violent attack on the marchers at Burntollet Bridge some miles from Derry city on 4 January. The failure of the police escort to protect the marchers or arrest the attackers aroused much comment. Long had stated on 3 January that some marchers had attacked police, described his meeting with Paisley and Bunting as 'congenial', and said they were not responsible for earlier attacks on the march. His comment after Burntollet that marchers and loyalists were equally responsible for the subsequent violence was treated as outrageous even by the liberal-unionist Belfast Telegraph. The Burntollet debacle led to several days' rioting in Derry; Long publicly admitted that the RUC were stretched to the limit while uneasily predicting it would not be necessary to call in British troops.
O'Neill took responsibility for Long's actions and blamed the marchers for the trouble, thus further alienating moderate nationalist opinion. Long responded to rioting at a civil rights demonstration in Newry (11 January) by declaring that PD was no longer a non-violent organisation, and subsequently introduced a public order bill increasing police powers.
Last years in politics: the downfall of O'Neillism O'Neill called a general election in February 1969 in a last-ditch attempt to secure cross-community support and purge his hard-line internal critics. Long was unopposed in Ards and campaigned for pro-O'Neill candidates in other constituencies, warning of civil war and calling on moderate catholics to support O'Neill. (This was rendered less impressive by Long's admission that it would be a considerable time before the UUP could accept catholic members or candidates.) In the event, O'Neill failed to dislodge most of his critics.
In a post-election reshuffle to fill the vacancies left by the resignations of Brian Faulkner (qv) and William Morgan (qv), Long was appointed minister of development (12 March 1969). When O'Neill announced his intention of immediately implementing one man-one vote in local government and threatened (with his closest cabinet allies) to resign unless it was approved, Long joined James Chichester-Clark (qv) in expressing doubts in cabinet on the grounds that the measure would provoke massive resistance from hard-liners (though he did not resign as Chichester-Clark did). This last-minute distancing from O'Neill led some journalists to speculate that Long might emerge as a compromise candidate in the UUP leadership election after O'Neill's resignation in April 1969, but this was never a serious possibility (particularly after his disastrous stint at Home Affairs). O'Neill's supporters later believed Long voted for Faulkner rather than for O'Neill's preferred successor, Chichester-Clark.
After Chichester-Clark's victory, Long was transferred back to Education to make way for Faulkner's return to Development (3 May 1969); however, he was appointed to the cabinet's security committee (made up of the prime minister and three cabinet members who had previously been home affairs ministers), which oversaw the deteriorating security situation. As rioting spread, Long declared that it was poisoning pupils' minds and ordered that more welfare officers be sent into schools; less happily, he attracted widespread criticism for suggesting during the August 1969 Belfast riots that catholics attacked by protestant mobs had burnt their own houses. In cabinet he supported Faulkner in calling for more assertive security measures, and made a point of attending the funerals of the second RUC officer (April 1970) and first British soldier (January 1971) killed in the troubles.
Long was unexpectedly retained as education minister by Brian Faulkner on his succession in March 1971 (though he was dropped from the joint security committee), but was seen by commentators as primarily an administrator, lacking a political base and at odds with both liberals and hard-liners. In the last months of Stormont he delivered a series of speeches combining denunciations of IRA violence and 'provocative' civil rights marches – including the 'bloody Sunday' march of 30 January 1972, when thirteen protestors were shot dead by British troops – with attacks on the government of the Irish Republic for tolerating 'criminal' IRA activity on its territory, and increasingly desperate echoes of O'Neillism (claiming a large number of silent catholics preferred unionism to the SDLP and the IRA; telling Yorkshire businessmen that Northern Ireland remained a promising location for investment and would experience rapid economic growth after the supposedly imminent defeat of the IRA).
Responding to the prorogation of Stormont (March 1972), Long compared British Prime Minister Edward Heath to Pontius Pilate, acquiescing in the 'crucifixion' of Faulkner and 'appeasing' Irish irredentism to secure a watering down of Labour party opposition to British entry into the EEC. Seeking to rouse British public opinion in support of Ulster unionists, he helped establish and chaired the short-lived Yorkshire League for a British Ulster. He opposed those UUP members who advocated full political reintegration of Northern Ireland into the Westminster system (he argued it would lead to neglect by a remote and uninterested government) or a unilateral declaration of independence as advocated by Craig's Ulster Vanguard movement. Instead, he argued that the party needed to focus on socio-economic issues and prove its competence to govern once the troubles had ended. The long-term validity of this advice should not disguise the fact that amid the intensifying conflicts of 1972 it represented wistful reversion to O'Neill's 1960s claim that enlightened unionist technocracy could by itself make the province's divisions disappear.
Long's political career ended when he failed to secure an UUP candidacy for North Down in the June 1973 election to the Northern Ireland Assembly; he was seen as being out of touch with the grassroots and local political concerns. His son Michael (b. 1952) was subsequently fisheries spokesman for the short-lived Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, formed in September 1974 under Brian Faulkner by supporters of the defeated Sunningdale power-sharing agreement; this may imply that Long also supported UPNI.
Fisherman and retirement From 1972 to 1985 Long took up commercial fishing, becoming owner first of a skiff based in Annalong (Co. Down) and then of a trawler; he even learned to weld so he could conduct repairs himself. Recruited as manager of the newly formed Northern Ireland Fish Producers' Organisation (1975–83), he also became part-time secretary of the Ulster Sea Fishermen's Association, and in 1982 chaired the UK Association of Fish Producers' Organisations. On leaving the NIFPO, Long returned to fishing, sailing from Groomsport, Co. Down, in a Yorkshire coble (flat-bottomed with a square stern) which he had had built to fish for scallops and velvet crabs but which was also equipped for trawling and long-lining. In 1984 Long was awarded the OBE. He retired in 1987 and soon thereafter moved to North Yorkshire. In 2007, after his first wife's death, he married Valerie Bryans, a long-time friend who had been his secretary at Stormont. He died in York District Hospital on 10 February 2008 after a short illness.
Assessment Long's career mirrors the rise and fall of the O'Neillite modernising-unionist project, in some ways more fully than that of O'Neill himself. His arrival in Northern Ireland reflected the way in which participation in the second world war bound the province more tightly to a wider British identity, and he participated in the growth of the welfare-bureaucratic state whose expansion while the Republic stagnated provided added incentives for the maintenance of the union. Long's administrative skills and legislative reforms helped to foster the prospect of transforming Northern Ireland into a broadly-based regional technocracy resting on improved community relations within a wider British framework; but the mishandling of the civil rights protests and the rapid eruption of the troubles showed up Long's political shortcomings and the failure of the project of reconciliation through modernisation to acknowledge the depth of catholic-nationalist grievances, the determination of hard-line loyalists to resist concessions, and the persistence of older divisions in the narrow ground beneath the veneer of post-war modernity.