Belfast Telegraph

Hardline unionist Bill Craig dies

Former hardline unionist leader Bill Craig has died.

Craig 86, who suffered a stroke earlier this month, had been leader of the fundamentalist Vanguard movement and was home affairs minister in the Stormont government.

Former MP David Burnside, who knew him well, said: "As probably the most prominent hardline unionist at the beginning of the Troubles, he brought together all the groupings of unionism at the political and paramilitary levels."

Craig was opposed to the protests of the 1960s for Catholic rights including the vote and also played a leading role in the loyalist workers' strike in the 1970s which led to the fall of a power-sharing government which followed the Sunningdale Agreement.

He was active in the Ulster Unionist Party, was elected to Stormont in 1960 for Larne, and became a minister in 1963.

Craig held several portfolios under prime minister Terence O'Neill, eventually as minister for home affairs. He banned the march of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in October 1968 and accused the civil rights movement of being a political front for the IRA. He was eventually dismissed by the relatively liberal Mr O'Neill.

Craig formed a new party, the Vanguard Unionists, part of the United Ulster Unionist Council which opposed the power-sharing Sunningdale Agreement. That agreement included constitutional nationalists in government and opposition to it brought parts of Northern Ireland's industry to a standstill. At one point the Vanguard threatened physical resistance to the British Government's support for the agreement.

He won a Westminster seat in 1974 for East Belfast, but lost it in 1979. He lived near Bangor, Co Down, until his death.

First Minister Peter Robinson said: "Bill was involved in politics during some of the most turbulent times in Northern Ireland's history.

"He was a committed unionist who cared deeply about Northern Ireland. At this sad time our thoughts and prayers are with Bill's family."

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