The continued existence of nationalist no-go areas in Belfast and Londonderry was a serious problem for the security forces as they provided refuge for provisional IRA terrorists. At the same time, the establishment of loyalist no-go areas made a mockery of law within Ulster. The British Army had planned an operation to clear both nationalist and loyalist no-go areas, but the Westminster government held off authorising the plan, fearing heavy civilian casualties. After repeated warnings, which allowed many terrorists to move to other loyalist areas (or across the border into the republic in the case of nationalists), the operation was finally given the go-ahead.
The operation began on 31 July 1972. Thirty thousand troops were involved, including 38 regular battalion-sized formations (27 of which were infantry battalions and two armoured regiments) and 5,500 members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The operation met with almost no resistance in either nationalist or loyalist areas.
With the clearance of no-go areas and the imposition of direct rule from Westminster there was a possibility of a political solution to the troubles. On 9 December 1973, at Sunningdale in Berkshire, the British Government and the Irish Republic, together with representatives from mainstream parties in Northern Ireland, set up a Council of Ireland to provide a forum for discussions about Ulster and a power-sharing executive to replace direct rule by Westminster.
Hard-line loyalists vociferously opposed the Sunningdale Agreement. The <<Ulster Workers' Council>> organised a seven-day general strike that saw Northern Ireland brought to a halt. The power-sharing executive collapsed on 28 May 1974 and direct rule from Westminster was re-imposed. Throughout the 1970s the level of violence generally decreased, with neither the security forces nor the nationalists able to decisively defeat each other. The situation became a stalemate.