Thirty years ago today (17 June 1974) a bomb exploded in Westminster Hall at about 8.28am, which led to a large fire in the medieval hall. Six minutes before police had received a warning using a recognised IRA code word. David Steel, then Liberal chief whip, was in the Palace of Westminster at the time and later told the BBC: “the whole hall was filled with dust. A few minutes later it was possible to see flames shooting up through the windows.” Although no-one was killed in the blast, eleven people were injured, and security arrangements at Westminster were immediately reviewed.
The bombing occurred during the early years of the Troubles, but during one of the most deadly periods of the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign. The bomb in Westminster Hall was detonated shortly after one of the early attempts at power-sharing in Stormont, the Sunningdale agreement, collapsed after Republicans boycotted elections and Unionists called a General Strike. Until the Good Friday agreement of 1998 attempts to re-establish self-government in Northern Ireland failed, and violence continued. [For more on parliament and Ireland, see these articles from ‘Living Heritage’ on the UK Parliament’s website]
MPs and government ministers became targets for the IRA and other Republican groups. Airey Neave, the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, was killed in a car bomb in 1979, and Ian Gow, Conservative MP for Eastbourne and a former cabinet minister, was also killed by a car bomb in 1990.
Several of the former MPs interviewed for our Oral History project have discussed the impact of the threat of violence and the situation in Ulster had on their lives and, to a less serious extent, their political careers. For example Sir Peter Fry, Conservative MP for Wellingborough 1969-1997, remembers how he ended up on an IRA ‘death list’:
Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, Raymond Carter, was a junior minister in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. He faced similar security requirements and a demanding schedule split between Belfast and Westminster. His appointment had consequences for his political career as well; he remembers in this clip that his involvement in Northern Ireland contributed to the loss of his seat in 1979:
For more on our Oral History project, visit our website.