Ulster Unionist political thought in the era of the Northern Ireland Troubles, 1968-1998

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This article examines Ulster Unionist political thought, in its widest sense, against the backdrop of the Northern Ireland Troubles. During this period, Ulster Unionists sought to resist nationalist and republican arguments for the unification of Ireland and to articulate their position to supporters and wider audiences. As Direct Rule from London followed the suspension of the unionist-dominated Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont in 1972 and its abolition the following year, internal unionist debate intensified over the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. Defining Ulster Unionism broadly, at a time when its organisational forms were proliferating, the article considers the Ulster Unionist Party and its offshoot Vanguard, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party and the paramilitary organisations, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, and their affiliated political bodies. The article analyses, in turn, the four competing unionist visions of the future: a return to majority-rule devolution; independence; closer integration with Great Britain; and power-sharing devolution. Not attempting a detailed consideration of the policy proposals, the article instead explores the connections forged between Ulster Unionist political ideas, some of them of long pedigree, and wider debates. It shows that, at a time of considerable change for the United Kingdom, Ulster Unionist argument reflected—much more than is currently understood, and sometimes in a pronounced form—a wide range of interconnected contemporary British disputes. These not only concerned the constitution, nationality and sovereignty, but also permissiveness, political parties, decline, the end of empire, Thatcherism and European integration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1760–1791
Number of pages32
JournalEnglish Historical Review
Issue number589
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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