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Lady (Lucy) Faulkner (1925 - 2012):
Broadcaster; political secretary

Lucy Faulkner was the wife of Brian Faulkner, who was a leading figure in Northern Ireland politics, especially as Prime Minister from 1971-1972 and Chief Executive of the power-sharing Executive which lasted for only a few months in 1974. In her long widowhood she was an active member of the Board of Governors of BBC Northern Ireland and a National Governor of the BBC. 

She was born Lucy Barbara Ethel Forsythe and educated at Bangor Collegiate School, and the University of Dublin, where she read history. She joined the Belfast Telegraph in 1947, leaving after two years to work at the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont as personal secretary to the then Prime Minister, Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough. In 1951, she married Brian Faulkner, then Stormont's youngest-ever MP. They had met the prevous year when Brian Faulkner, out hunting during the 1950 General Election campaign, broke a collar bone and needing someone to drive him, asked Lucy Forsythe whom he new as a neighbour. He later recounted how this link, allied to their mutual interest in politics, brought them together. The Faulkners were what would be called, and to a large extent, “liberal” Unionists, not averse to contacts in the Republic (through her university acquaintances and the couple’s equestrian interests which would take thenm to events in Dublin). Faulkner failed to be elected Prime Minister until 1971, by which time, after a decade in which aspects of Ulster life, especially in the economic sphere, had given some cause for optimism, nevertheless civil unrest deteriorated into the era of the Troubles. The Northern Ireland Parliament was prorogued (suspended) in 1972 largely because of the security situation which the government in London felt the Belfast government could not control. An agreement hatched at Sunningdale, England, for a power-sharing Executive with some institutional link with the Republic of Ireland, was implemented in 1974 with Brian Faulkner as Chief executive, but lasted barely half a year due to widespread popular opposition (though not in all quarters). 

Lucy Faulkner’s political role at this time was almost entirely as a confidante and (unofficial) adviser to her husband, though she occasionally made public statements, such as in 1973 when in response to a political commentator, Profssor John Vaizey, who advocated a United Ireland under Dublin, she painted a rather dire picture of what she thought would the likely outcome: an unworkable government coupled with a much higher level of violence. 

Her husband’s severe political defeat in reality spelled the end of his political career, as he led only the small Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. Lucy Faulkner chaired this from 1976. The following year, she was present when her husband was killed in a hunting accident. His political outlook survived with his widow, whose views were that for stability and some sort of social and economic progress in Northern Ireland, the Unionists would have to come to some accommodation with Irish Nationalism within and without Northern Ireland (the Unionists were a majority in Northern Ireland but far from an overwhelming one). She also warned Unionists that they would be unwise to expect unflinching support (whether political, financial or military) from the rest of the United Kingdom into perpetuity. She was one of six members of the “Opsahl Commission”, named for its chairman, a Norwegian professor, and which published a report in 1993 on the political future of Northern Ireland; some saw this as an important step in the Northern Ireland peace process, others (mainly Unionists) rounded on its apparent recommendation that Sinn Fein should be admitted to political talks without an IRA rejection of violence (Sinn Fein was almost universally accepted as being the political wing of the Republican movement of which the IRA was the military wing).

Lady Faulkner devoted much time in her retirement to the BBC. She was the first woman from Northern Ireland to be a National Governor (1978-1975) and played a notable role in the creation of a Northern Ireland Broadcasting Council. In 1980, she felt that a little too much attention was being paid to the “blanket protest” (Republican prisoners, denied at the time “political status”, that is, a recognition that they were essentially political prisoners). The Director of BBC Northern Ireland, James Hawthorne, disagreed with her, stating that the issue was now a sizable one; he was right, as only the following year a hunger strike was reported throughout the entire world. 

In 1984, the BBC in London sought to make a television programme in their “Real Lives” Series. The programme makers wanted to focus on two prominent figures from the city of Derry-Londonderry, Gregory Campbell of the Democratic Unionist Party (then seen as the more hardline of the two main Unionist parties), and Martin McGuinness (regarded by many as one of the leaders of the IRA). The point the programme makers wanted to make concerned, broadly, that two people from the same city (and it is a small city) have nothing politically in common, in fact there is considerable political animosity (though within 200 years they would serve in the same devolved government). At that time, the Conservative government in London thought the programme should not be made or broadcast on the ground that McGuinness due to his (as many maintained) position in the IRA, which was still carrying on its guerrilla campaign. Prime Minister Thatcher used a phrase which became well known, the “oxygen of publicity”. The opposite view was that to prevent the programme would amount to censorship. The BBC Director, Hawthorne, later spoke of a “row of gargantuan proportions”. Lady Faulkner took the former line, and voted to ban the programme. However another issue involving Derry-Londonderry – BBC Northern Ireland wished to set up a presence in the city and at the time the city was years away from its hyphenated nomenclature. Lady Faulkner was pleased with the name chosen, BBC Radio Foyle, describing it as “inspired”. 

Lady Faulkner became a researcher, then a trustee, for the Ulster Historical Foundation. She returned to the political stage in 1987 after the IRA's bombing in Enniskillen. She appealed to nationalists to stop finding excuses not to co-operate with the security forces, and for the unionist leadership to "put the clock back" and welcome power sharing, the system her husband had accepted in 1973. A version of it was eventually accepted in Northern Ireland in 1998.

Born: 1 July 1925
Died: 20 January 2012
Richard Froggatt

Obituaries, The Times; Jonathan Bardon: Beyond the studio : a history of BBC Northern Ireland (Belfast, Blackstaff, 2000); A History of Ulster (Belfast, Blackstaff, 2001)