William (Bill) Craig (2 December 1924 – 25 April 2011) is a Northern Ireland politician best known for forming the Ulster Vanguard movement of Unionists.
From Cookstown, County Tyrone, Craig was educated at Larne Grammar School and Queen’s University Belfast. After serving in the Royal Air Force (as a Lancaster bomber rear gunner) during World War II he became a solicitor.
He was active in the Ulster Unionist Party and led the Ulster Young Unionist Council. He was elected to the Stormont Parliament in a by-election in 1960 for Larne, and became a Minister in 1963. He held several portfolios under Terence O’Neill, eventually as Minister for Home Affairs. His most renowned action while in this office was to ban the march of Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association on 5 October 1968. He also accused the civil rights movement of being a political front for the IRA.
On 11 December 1968 O’Neill dismissed Craig when he suspected Craig was a supporter of an independent Northern Ireland. Craig began to build a powerbase for himself within unionism, becoming head of the Ulster Loyalist Association. The official Unionist Party withdrew the whip from him in May 1970 and Craig then began to prepare his own political party. The Ulster Vanguard movement was formed on 9 February 1972 under Craig’s leadership (the Deputy Leaders were the Reverend Martin Smyth and Captain Austin Ardill).
Ulster Vanguard advocated a semi-independent Northern Ireland. Vanguard held a large rally on 18 March 1972 in Belfast’s Ormeau Park at which Craig said “We must build up the dossiers on the men and women who are a menace to this country, because one day, ladies and gentlemen, if the politicians fail, it will be our duty to liquidate the enemy”. Vanguard also staged a two-day strike in protest at the prorogation of the Stormont Parliament. In April 1972 Vanguard issued a policy statement ‘Ulster – A Nation’ which said that Northern Ireland might have to consider independence. In October he spoke at a meeting of right-wing MPs at Westminster. He told them he could mobilise 80,000 men to oppose the British government, adding “We are prepared to come out and shoot and kill. I am prepared to come out and shoot and kill, let’s put the bluff aside. I am prepared to kill, and those behind me will have my full support.” Vanguard progressed in March 1973 into the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party.
The Vanguard Unionists under Craig formed part of the United Ulster Unionist Council which opposed the power-sharing Sunningdale Agreement. Craig was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly created under the Sunningdale Agreement, and he won a seat in the UK Parliament at the February 1974 election for East Belfast. However, in the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention in the mid-1970s, Craig broke with the majority of his party to support voluntary power-sharing. The Vanguard Unionists fell apart, with one section forming the United Ulster Unionist Party, and Craig lead the remains of Vanguard to rejoin the Ulster Unionist Party in 1978, but lost his seat in the 1979 election.
Craig subsequently broke with the Ulster Unionists once more. When elections were held for the new Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982, Craig revived the name Vanguard for his candidacy in East Belfast. However, he failed to get elected.