Harry West

1970s Ulster Unionist Party leader

Henry William West, politician: born Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh 27 March 1917; MP (Unionist) for Enniskillen, Northern Ireland Parliament 1954-72; President, Ulster Farmers' Union 1955-56; Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture, 1958; Minister of Agriculture 1960-67, 1971-72; PC (Northern Ireland) 1960; Member (Unionist) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Northern Ireland Assembly 1973-75; MP (United Ulster Unionist Coalition) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone 1974; Leader, Ulster Unionist Party 1974-79; Member (United Ulster Unionist Coalition) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention 1975-76; married 1956 Maureen Hall (four sons, three daughters); died Enniskillen 5 February 2004.

Harry West was a one-time leader of the Ulster Unionist Party who in the 1960s and 1970s tried in vain to staunch the rise of, first, the civil-rights movement and, latterly, militant republicanism.

A big bluff farmer from Northern Ireland's rural west, he was throughout his life associated with the old system of majority rule, when his party ruled in the Belfast Stormont parliament for half a century. His efforts to maintain that system came to nothing as the unrest of the 1960s led on to the violence and terrorism of the 1970s.

History may record that his most significant moment came in 1981 when, in an attempted political comeback, he stood in the most momentous by-election ever held in Northern Ireland. His opponent, the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, defeated him in Fermanagh and South Tyrone by 30,492 votes to 29,046, on an 87 per cent turnout. The result is regarded as a turning-point and helped set Sinn Fein on a political track.

Harry West was Stormont Minister of Agriculture in the 1960s before he was sacked by the Prime Minister Terence O'Neill over a Fermanagh land deal. Disgruntled, he became a vociferous opponent of O'Neill's attempts at political reform. He later rejoined the Unionist fold under Brian Faulkner as leader, but his instincts were implacably against attempts to introduce any element of power-sharing with Catholics and nationalists.

When Faulkner fell in 1974 West took over as party leader, lasting five years in the job. He led the party into alliance with the Rev Ian Paisley and other hardliners, pressing for a return to majority Protestant rule.

He was by no means a nasty man, but although he always had a respectable image he was implacably opposed to compromise and wanted Stormont back. Unionists got nowhere on this tack, and in 1979 he resigned after being trounced by Paisley in a European election.

This was assumed to be the end of his political career, and it was something of a surprise when he emerged to stand against Sands at a time of high political tension.

West's identification with majority rule is believed to have had an influence in the election, since local nationalists feared a West victory would encourage attempts to turn the clock back.

Harry West was summed up by the Belfast historian Eamon Phoenix:

He was unsettled by O'Neill's attempts to introduce reform. He was suspicious of nationalism, he was suspicious of London and he was opposed to change. He took his cue from his ancestral voices.

David McKittrick

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Getty
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Manager - Business Support Transformation, 1 year contract

£550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Walthamstow...

Head Of Development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This excitin...

PHP Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: PHP Developer...

MIDDLE EAST CURRENT AFFAIRS OFFICER

£27,000-£34,000 per annum: US Embassy: An office of the US Embassy based in Be...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor