The year 1972 saw the death toll soar to its highest in the 25 years of the Troubles, as a result the British Prime Minister suspended Stormont and Northern Ireland was placed under direct rule from Westminster. Edward Heath was concerned law and order was about to completely breakdown in N Ireland and felt rapid reforms were needed to regain control of the rapidly deteriorating situation. However the problems in N Ireland were deep rooted across the divided community and finding a solution would not be an easy process. The elections of June 1973 highlighted the effect this had on Faulkner’s position as Prime Minister. Faulkner`s Unionist Party received 29.3% of the votes while other Unionists received 32.6% of the total votes. The fall of Stormont has caused diverse reactions across the community. Many Unionists felt betrayed by the Government and as a result of this many broke away to form more extreme forms of Unionism such as Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party. This weakened Unionism as a whole as Faulkner had lost the trust and support of his fellow party members. His success relied upon regaining their confidence as the splits had considerably weakened Faulkner`s position. In light of these election results great care needed to be taken when addressing the country`s problems as Faulkner could not afford to completely isolate himself. The imposition of direct rule also makes us aware of the lack of support Faulkner had from the British Government in 1972 as he could not reach a suitable agreement with the Prime Minister. This will continue to hinder Faulkner’s progress up until his resignation in 1974.
The June Elections were extremely important as it followed the release of a white paper in March that announced the Governments plans for a power sharing executive. Those who had left the Unionist party were anti-power sharing despite Faulkner`s promises that he “would never share power with any party whose primary objective was to break Union with Britain.1” Judging by the response of Unionists to these plans it gives a clear warning that reforms would have to be carefully put in to place to ensure support from the Unionists as without his party Faulkner could not successfully carry out his role as PM. However as we examine the events in the next months it is clear this was not taken in to consideration in the coming months. The Governments plans were not in line with the wishes of many in N.Ireland yet it was Faulkner who carried the burden of an impossible task.
Nationalists felt quite different to the fall of Stormont. It spread hope in the Nationalist community that there may be a better future with equality regardless of religion. Despite this NICRA and the Peoples Democracy continued their campaigns demanding rapid reform placing unrelenting pressure on Faulkner to find a solution. The IRA also continued their campaigns of violence which undermined Faulkner throughout 1973 and 1974. The different reactions direct rule increased the tensions between the Catholic and Protestant communities making it harder for Faulkner to restore law and order. As the divides in society grew stronger Faulkner`s task became more challenging yet it appears no consideration was paid to his unstable position.
The membership of the Executive was decided in November 1973. It excluded those who were opposed to power sharing which further spread fear and feelings of exclusion among Unionist opposition, Faulkner was losing any chance of repairing the spilt as he had completely ignored their objections to the new plans. This was not the only problem apparent in November as Nationalists still felt they were outnumbered in the Executive and no agreement had been reached regarding the role the