24 February 1969: A General Election was held in the North on this day. It was called by the Prime Minister Terence O’Neill [above], who hoped to strengthen his position to deal with the rapidly changing political situation that was developing due to advent of the Civil Rights Movement. The Rev Ian Paisley ran against him in his own constituency and secured 6,331 votes to O’Neill’s 7,741 – an ignominious result for O’Neill who was not used to being challenged for a seat he saw as his own.
It was an embarrassing victory given his previous unchallenged position. On the Nationalist side this election saw the rise of John Hume (Independent) in the Foyle Constituency of Derry. He defeated the veteran leader of the Nationalist Party Eddie Mc Ateer by 8,920 votes to 5,267 in a major upset.
The Unionist Party won 36 seats; the Unofficial Unionist Party 3 seats; the Northern Ireland Labour Party 2 seats; the Nationalist Party 2 seats; the Republican Labour Party 2 seats & Independents 2 seats.
For O’Neill it was a Pyrrhic Victory for out of the 39 Unionists returned only 27 were in support of his policies and 12 were against or undecided. Four days later he was re-elected as leader of the Unionist Parliamentary Party and thus was confirmed again as the Prime Minister. It was obvious though that his days were clearly numbered.
He retired from Stormont politics in January 1970 when he resigned his seat, having become the Father of the House in the previous year. On 23 January 1970 he was created a life peer as Baron O'Neill of the Maine of Ahoghill in the County of Antrim. He died in England in 1990.