seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Sir Oliver Napier, First Leader of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party

Sir Oliver Napier, the first leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, is born in Belfast on July 11, 1935. In 1974 he serves as the first and only Legal Minister and head of the Office of Legal Reform in the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive set up by the Sunningdale Agreement.

Napier is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast and Queen’s University Belfast before starting work as a solicitor.

Napier joins the Ulster Liberal Party, rising to become Vice President by 1969. That year, he leads a group of four party members who join the New Ulster Movement, accepting the post of joint Chairman of its political committee. The Liberal Party promptly expels him, but, working with Bob Cooper, he uses his position to establish a new political party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which seeks to become a political force that can command support from across the divided communities of the province, but remain pro-union. This aims to offer an alternative to what he describes as the sectarianism of the Ulster Unionist Party. Despite his faith he is a supporter of the Union.

Napier serves as the party’s joint leader from 1970 until 1972, then as its sole leader from 1973 to 1984. Under his leadership Alliance participates in successive assemblies that seek to solve the debate on the province’s position, including the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1973 in which he is a minister in the power-sharing Executive. In 1979 he comes closer to winning a seat in the Westminster Parliament than any other Alliance candidate up to that point when he is less than a thousand votes behind Peter Robinson‘s winning total in Belfast East in a tight three-way race. This record is beaten in 2010, when Naomi Long ousts Robinson from the same seat. When Napier steps down as leader in 1984 he receives many plaudits for his work. The following year he is knighted and in 1989 he stands down from Belfast City Council, seemingly to retire.

However, in 1995 Napier returns to the political fray when he contests the North Down by-election for the Alliance, standing again in the 1997 United Kingdom general election. In 1996 he is elected to the Northern Ireland Forum for North Down. Prior to his death he is the last prominent member of the Ulster Liberal Party.

Napier serves on the Board of Governors of Lagan College, the first integrated school in Northern Ireland.

Napier dies at the age of 75 on July 2, 2011. He is survived by his wife, Briege, whom he marries in 1961, three sons and five daughters, and 23 grandchildren. A son predeceases him.


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Birth of Brian Faulkner, Sixth & Last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

Arthur Brian Deane Faulkner, Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick, the sixth and last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, is born on February 18, 1921, in Helen’s Bay, County Down.

Faulkner is the elder of two sons of James, owner of the Belfast Collar Company, and Nora Faulkner. His younger brother is Colonel Sir Dennis Faulkner. He is educated initially at Elm Park preparatory school, Killylea, County Armagh, but at 14, preferring to stay in Ireland, is sent to the Church of Ireland-affiliated St. Columba’s College at Whitechurch, County Dublin, although he is Presbyterian. His best friend at the school is Michael Yeats, son of W. B. Yeats. He enters Queen’s University Belfast in 1939 to study law, but, with the advent of World War II, he quits his studies to work full-time in the family shirt-making business. He is the only Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to have been educated in the Irish Free State and one of only two to have been educated in Ireland.

Faulkner becomes involved in unionist politics, the first of his family to do so, and is elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland as the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of East Down in 1949. His vociferous traditional unionist approach to politics ensures him a prominent backbench position. He is, at the time, the youngest ever MP in the Northern Irish Parliament. He is also the first Chairman of the Ulster Young Unionist Council in 1949. In 1956 he is offered and accepts the job of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, or Government Chief Whip.

In 1959, Faulkner becomes Minister of Home Affairs and his handling of security for most of the Irish Republican Army‘s border campaign of 1956–62 bolsters his reputation in the eyes of the right wing of Ulster unionism.

When Terence O’Neill becomes Prime Minister in 1963 he appoints Faulkner, his chief rival for the job, as Minister of Commerce. He resigns in 1969 over the technicalities of how and when to bring in the local government reforms which the British Labour government is pushing for. This is a factor in the resignation of O’Neill, who resigns as Prime Minister in the aftermath of his failure to achieve a good enough result in the 1969 Northern Ireland general election.

In the ensuing leadership contest, Faulkner loses out again when O’Neill gives his casting vote to his cousin, James Chichester-Clark. In 1970, he becomes the Father of the House. He comes back into government as Minister of Development under Chichester-Clark and in a sharp turn-around, begins the implementation of the political reforms that were the main cause of his resignation from O’Neill’s cabinet. Chichester-Clark himself resigns in 1971 as the political and security situation and the more intensive British interest proves difficult.

Faulkner is elected leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and Prime Minister. In his initial innovative approach to government, he gives a non-unionist, David Bleakley, a former Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) MP, a position in his cabinet as Minister for Community Relations. In June 1971, he proposes three new powerful committees at Stormont which would give the opposition salaried chairmanships of two of them.

However, this initiative (radical at the time) is overtaken by events. A shooting by soldiers of two nationalist youths in Derry causes the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the main opposition, to boycott the Stormont parliament. The political climate deteriorates further when, in answer to a worsening security situation, Faulkner introduces internment on August 9, 1971. This is a disaster and causes the situation to worsen.

Despite this, Faulkner continues his radical approach to Northern Irish politics and, following Bleakley’s resignation in September 1971 over the internment issue, appointes Dr. G. B. Newe, a prominent lay Catholic, as Minister of State in the Cabinet Office. His administration staggers on through the rest of 1971, insisting that security is the paramount issue.

In January 1972, an incident occurs during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Derry, during which paratroopers shoot and killed thirteen unarmed civilians. A fourteenth civilian dies later. What history has come to know as Bloody Sunday is, in essence, the end of Faulkner’s government. In March 1972, he refuses to maintain a government without security powers which the British government under Edward Heath decides to take back. The Stormont parliament is subsequently prorogued, initially for a period of one year, and following the appointment of a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, direct rule is introduced.

In June 1973, elections are held to a new devolved parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly. The elections split the UUP. Faulkner becomes chief executive in a power-sharing executive with the SDLP and the centre-ground Alliance Party, a political alliance cemented at the Sunningdale Conference that year. The power-sharing Executive lasts only six months and is brought down by a loyalist Ulster Workers’ Council strike in May 1974. In 1974, he loses the leadership of the UUP to anti-Sunningdale elements led by Harry West. He subsequently resigns from the Ulster Unionist Party and forms the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI).

The UPNI fares badly in the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention elections of 1975, winning only five out of the 78 seats contested. Faulkner wins the final seat. In 1976 he announces that he is quitting active politics. He is elevated to the House of Lords in the 1977 New Year Honours list, being created Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick on February 7, 1977.

Faulkner, a keen huntsman, dies on March 3, 1977 following a riding accident while hunting with the County Down Staghounds at the Ballyagherty/Station Road junction near Saintfield, County Down. He is riding at full gallop along a narrow country road when his horse slips, throwing him off and killing him instantly. He is laid to rest at Magherahamlet Presbyterian Church near Spa, County Down where he had been a regular member of the congregation. His twenty-four-day life peerage is thus the shortest-lived until the death of Lord Heywood of Whitehall in 2018 just nine days after ennoblement.


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Birth of Dawn Purvis, Former Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly

Dawn Purvis, former Independent Unionist member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, is born in the Donegall Pass area of Belfast on October 22, 1966. She is previously the leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) until she resigns in 2010. She loses her seat in the Assembly in the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Purvis joins the Progressive Unionist Party in 1994. She stands for the party in the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum election in Belfast South and then in the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly election in Belfast South, here taking only 271 votes. By 1999, she is the Progressive Unionist Party’s Spokesperson on Women’s Affairs. She takes a degree in Women’s Studies, Social Policy and Social Anthropology and begins working full-time for the party.

Purvis stands in Belfast South in the 2001 United Kingdom general election, finishing in sixth place with a total of 1,112 votes (2.9%). In 2006, she is appointed to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Her appointment is later criticised by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), because of the Progressive Unionist Party’s links with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

In January 2007, Purvis succeeds the late David Ervine as leader of the Progressive Unionist Party and Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Belfast East. Commenting on her new role she says, “I am deeply honoured to have been made the leader of the PUP. However, this is also tinged with sadness given the huge loss of David. It is a huge challenge to step into this role, especially after the good work he did. But this gives us an opportunity to rebuild and continue to serve working class loyalists and unionist communities.”

In her maiden speech in the Assembly, Purvis says “As long as there is poverty, and as long as there is inequality in education, health and gender, it will be my duty to articulate the needs of the working and workless classes in East Belfast.”

Purvis is re-elected in the constituency at the Northern Ireland Assembly election held on March 7, 2007, on the tenth and final round of counting.

In June 2010, Purvis resigns as leader, and as a member, of the Progressive Unionist Party because of its relationship with the UVF and the murder of Bobby Moffet which is attributed to that group by the Independent Monitoring Commission.

In the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election Purvis defends her seat as an independent candidate with Progressive Unionist Party leader Brian Ervine running against her. In the end neither candidate is elected and instead the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland gains a second Belfast East seat.

Purvis is now the director of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast. In November 2014 Bernadette Smyth, founder of the Precious Life organisation, is found guilty of the harassment of Purvis, but the verdict is later quashed.


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Birth of David Bleakley, Northern Ireland Politician

David Wylie Bleakley, politician and peace campaigner in Northern Ireland, is born in the Strandtown district of Belfast, Northern Ireland on January 11, 1925.

Bleakley works as an electrician in the Harland and Wolff dockyards while becoming increasingly active in his trade union. He studies economics at Ruskin College in Oxford, where he strikes up a friendship with C. S. Lewis, about whom he later writes a centenary memoir. He later attends Queen’s University Belfast. A committed Christian, he is a lifelong Anglican – a member of the Church of Ireland. Throughout his life, he is a lay preacher.

Bleakley joins the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and contests the Northern Ireland Parliament seat of Belfast Victoria in 1949 and 1953 before finally winning it in 1958. At Stormont, he is made the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, but he loses his seat in 1965. He is head of the department of economics and political studies at Methodist College Belfast from 1969 to 1979.

Bleakley runs for the Westminster seat of Belfast East in 1970 (gaining 41% of the vote), February 1974 and October 1974 for the Northern Ireland Labour Party each time, but never enough to win the Westminister seat from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). In 1971, Brian Faulkner appoints him as his Minister for Community Relations at Stormont, but as Bleakley is not an MP, he can only hold the post for six months. He resigns five days before his term expires in order to highlight his disagreement with government policy, specifically the failure to widen the government to include non-Unionist parties, and the decision to introduce internment. He writes a respectful biography of Faulkner and his own memoir of the period.

After the Parliament is abolished, Bleakley stands for, and is elected to, the Northern Ireland Assembly and its successor, the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention. He stands again for Belfast East in the February and October UK general elections, but wins only 14% of the vote each time.

By the late 1970s, the NILP is in disarray, and does not stand a candidate for the 1979 European Assembly election. Bleakley instead stands as an “Independent Community Candidate,” but takes only 1.6% of the votes cast.

During the 1980s, Bleakley sits as a non-partisan member of various quangos. From 1980 to 1992 he is general secretary of the Irish Council of Churches. In 1992, he joins the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and is an advisor to the group during the all-party talks. For the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum election, he is a prominent member of the Democratic Partnership list and stands in Belfast East, but is not elected. In 1998, he joins the Labour Party of Northern Ireland and stands in Belfast East in the Assembly elections, receiving 369 first preference votes.

Bleakley dies in Belfast at the age of 92 on June 26, 2017.


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1973 Northern Ireland Assembly Election

politics-of-northern-irelandElections to the Northern Ireland Assembly take place on June 28, 1973 following the publication of the British government‘s white paper Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals which proposes a 78-member Northern Ireland Assembly, elected by proportional representation. The election leads to power-sharing between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland for the first time.

From June 7, 1921 until March 30, 1972, the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland is the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which always has an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) majority and always elects a UUP government. The Parliament is suspended on March 30, 1972.

Shortly after this first parliament is abolished, attempts begin to restore devolution on a new basis that will see power shared between Irish nationalists and unionists. To this end a new parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, is established by the Government of the United Kingdom on May 3, 1973.

Following the June 28 elections, the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which receives the Royal Assent on July 18, 1973, abolishes the suspended Parliament of Northern Ireland and the post of Governor and makes provision for a devolved administration consisting of an Executive chosen by the Assembly.

One hundred eight members are elected by single transferable vote from Northern Ireland’s eighteen Westminster constituencies, with five to eight seats for each depending on its population. The Assembly meets for the first time on July 31, 1973.

A cross-community coalition of the Ulster Unionist Party under Brian Faulkner, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland is agreed in November 1973 and, following the Sunningdale Agreement, a power-sharing Executive is established from January 1, 1974.

After opposition from within the Ulster Unionist Party and the Ulster Workers’ Council strike over the proposal of an all Ireland council, the Executive and Assembly collapses on May 28, 1974 when Brian Faulkner resigns as Chief Executive. The Northern Ireland Assembly is abolished by the Northern Ireland Act 1974.

In 1982 another Northern Ireland Assembly is established at Stormont, initially as a body to scrutinise the actions of the Secretary of State, the British minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland. It receives little support from Irish nationalists and is officially dissolved in 1986.

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 formally establishes the Assembly in law, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement. The first election of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly is on June 25, 1998 and it first meets on July 1, 1998. However, it only exists in “shadow” form until December 2, 1999 when full powers are devolved to the Assembly. Since then the Assembly has operated intermittently and has been suspended on five occasions.


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Birth of Former Politician John Cushnahan

Portrait of MEP John Walls CUSHNAHANJohn Walls Cushnahan, former politician in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 23, 1948. He serves as leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and then as a Member of the European Parliament for Fine Gael.

Cushnahan is educated at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School and Queen’s University, Belfast and works as a teacher before going into politics. He works as General Secretary of the Alliance Party from 1974 until 1982 and is a member of Belfast City Council between 1977 and 1985.

In 1982 Cushnahan is elected to the Prior Assembly for North Down and two years later he becomes the new leader of Alliance, succeeding Oliver Napier. During his tenure as leader he seeks to strengthen the party’s links with the British Liberal Party. The Anglo Irish Agreement is signed during this period and Cushnahan faces the difficult position of giving Alliance support to it and facing the united opposition of the Unionist parties. However, when the Assembly is dissolved in 1986, Cushnahan finds it financially difficult to remain in politics and so stands down as leader in 1987 to be succeeded by John Alderdice.

Two years later Cushnahan makes a surprise political comeback when he moves to the Republic of Ireland and stands as a Fine Gael candidate in the 1989 election to the European Parliament, winning a seat in the Munster constituency. He is an MEP for fifteen years before retiring at the 2004 elections.

Cushnahan now serves as a board member of the peace and reconciliation charity Co-operation Ireland.