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Ulster Unionist Party

David Trimble
David Trimble
The Ulster Unionist Party evolved from the Ulster Unionist Council, which had its first formal meeting in 1905. While Unionism has never been united under a single party label, the UUP, now commonly referred to as the "Official Unionist Party", is still the largest party in Northern Ireland. Since 1905, there have been 12 party leaders, including the present leader, David Trimble, who took over from James Molyneaux.

According to the Ulster Unionist Council's 1989 Constitution, the movement's objectives reiterate its original aims from 1905: These include commitments to:

  • Maintain Northern Ireland as an integral part of the UK;

  • Safeguard the British citizenship of the people of Northern Ireland;

  • Link Ulster Unionists and their Parliamentary representatives to consult on policy, to convey advance and defend Ulster Unionist opinion and interests.
When Northern Ireland had its own assembly at Stormont (between 1921 and 1972), all six of Northern Ireland's Prime Ministers were UUP leaders. In the first Northern Irish General Election in 1921, the Unionists won 40 of the 52 seats in the assembly. In the last Northern Irish General Election in 1969, the party secured just over 48% of the seats.

The last Unionist leader to be Northern Irish Prime Minister was Brian Faulkner. In the early 1970s, in the midst of multi-lateral talks between the Republic of Ireland and UK Governments, and the Ulster Republican and Unionist parties, splits within the Unionist movement appeared. Some backed Faulkner's power-sharing policy while others opposed the British Government's proposals. Following the internal turmoil, Faulkner resigned and was replaced by Harry West.

Mr West forged links with Vanguard and the Democratic Unionist Party but under his leadership, the UUP distanced itself from the Conservatives. The Unionists had had long-standing links with the Conservative Party: converging on policy decisions and their common aversion to socialism and the Labour party. Unionist MPs in the UK Parliament took the Tory whip until it was withdrawn by Edward Heath after the February 1974 General Election. For a short period, the UUP's role at Westminster was strengthened by its newly independent position in the UK Parliament.

Under James Molyeaux's leadership, the UUP took part in the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont until it was dissolved in June 1986. The Ulster Unionist Council had continued to keep loose links to the UK Conservative Party, in the hope that the Tories would become more pro-unionist. However, Mrs Thatcher's signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement in November 1985 antagonised the Unionists and the UUP felt compelled to distance itself further from the Conservatives.

By the mid-1990s, the Unionists' role in the UK Parliament had strengthened, particularly as John Major's government, with its small - and then negative - majority, relied on their support to get legislation through the House.

At the 1997 General Election, the UUP fielded 16 candidates out of 18 Ulster seats. Still the largest party in Northern Ireland, it gained ten seats, one more than in 1992. The party secured 32.7% of all Northern Irish votes. All but one of its sitting MPs had re-contested their seats: James Molyneaux retired and Jeffrey Donaldson was elected in his place.

UUP MPs elected in 1997:

Roy Beggs (Antrim East)
Clifford Forsythe (Antrim South)
Cecil Walker (Belfast North)
Rev Martin Smyth (Belfast South)
Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh & South Tyrone)
Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)
William Ross (Londonderry)
John Taylor (Strangford)
William Thompson (Tyrone West)
David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Party Headquarters:

3 Glengall Street
BT12 5AE

Tel: 01232 324601

Ulster Unionist Party Home Page
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Diana, Princess of Wales, 1961-1997

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