Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Laurence C. Thorsen


In 1973, the Ulster Unionist Party fragmented after fifty years as the dominant party within Northern Ireland. However, this fragmentation did not simply occur in reaction to the events of the 1960's and early 1970's. It was a long ongoing process that can be traced back to the 1940's and 1950's.

This study is concerned with the splintering of the Ulster Unionist Party and the reasons that lay behind the division. The first contention in this thesis is that the Ulster Unionist Party was never the single united political party that it was often supposed to have been. It was a localized party designed to organize a localized State; supported by a cross-class alliance of voters; thus reflecting the inherent divisions and contradictions that this type of party inherently must contain. In fact, the leadership have always had to work hard to maintain unity and therefore political dominance. The only issue all Unionists were agreed upon.was the Constitutional one i.e. Northern Ireland was to remain an integral part of the United Kingdon.

This leads to the central point of the thesis; which is that the fragmentation of the Ulster Unionists is not merely the result of the current "troubles" in Northern Ireland. It is argued here that the root causes of the division of the Ulster Unionist Party are located in the Socio-economic changes that occupied in Northern Ireland in the post-World War II era.

The Ulster Unionist Party as the defender of the interests of local capital and Protestant supremacy increasingly found itself at odds with much of its support.

Northern Ireland was integrated into the wider international market economy with the demise of the traditional local industries such as shipbuilding, textiles, and agriculture. The Unionist government was forced to play a greater role in the economy of the state, introducing economic planning and centralization. This meant the Ulster Unionist Party at the local level lost its room to manoever and increasingly lots of its power. This was compounded with the introduction of the Westminster controlled Welfare State, which integrated the Catholics into the Northern Irish State, as least at the economic level.

The Ulster Unionist Party as the defender of local bourgeois interests and Protestant Supremacy increasingly found itself acting as an agent for international capital and the integration of Catholics into the economic Sphere of the State. However, the Ulster Unionist Party tried to do it in such a way so not to threaten the political power of the Protestants, thus maintaining a "Protestant State for a Protestant people".

Increasingly this caused problems. Many Unionists at the local level were becoming alienated with the Unionist government at Storemont. At the same time most Catholics were not really getting all the economic benefits they had hoped for, while at the political level, they were still discriminated against. As a result the Civil Rights Movement arose. The Ulster Unionist Party was unable to cope with the Civil Rights demands partly because it feared alienating any further the support of hard-line and local Protestants and partly because the party was not organized to allow full Catholic particiaption in the political life of the State. One of its main functions was to ensure that Catholics did not threated Protestant Supremacy.

It is in this period of the 1960's and early 1970's that the inherent divisions of a cross-class party finally became apparent. The Ulster Unionist Party finally did break-up over the political issues of law and order, Direct Role and power-sharing. But these political divisions cannot be seen in a vacuum. The Socio-economic conditions of Northern Ireland had changed, without corresponding political changes. Greater Catholic integration into the Northern Irish State at the economic and Social level, demanded greater political integration. The Ulster Unionist Party adapted to the Socio-economic change as best it could without trying to change the basic political nature of the State, but it was not enough.

When Socio-economic change occurs there must be corresponding political change. The Ulster Unionist Party could not act as an agent for this change, as it was not designed to. When the British government intervened to act as the agent of change the Ulster Unionist Party lost its raison d' etre, causing a realignment in Unionist politics. The party had little choicebut to fragment and adapt to the new political situation in Northern Ireland.