After partition, the Unionist Party set about creating “a Protestant state for a Protestant people” – built on a “foundation of sectarian discrimination, biased administration and a barrage of totalitarian legislation, which both protected unionism and instilled a deep sense of social injustice in the non-unionist population.” (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, 1978.)

Unionist leaders ran the north on the basis that to give something to Catholics was to take it away from Protestants. Working-class Protestants were urged to see equality for Catholics as a threat to their position. Catholics were virtually excluded from government jobs while private employers were urged to employ only “loyal men and women.”

No effective opposition to the Unionist government was permitted. The Special Powers Act and the police and the Special Constabularies – essentially, militant unionists, armed and in uniform – were all used as sectarian political tools. At one point, there was one police officer for every two Catholic families in the north. 

Over the 50 years of Stormont rule, successive British governments, which retained ultimate authority over the north, including over Stormont, operated a policy of “out of sight out of mind.”