Northern Ireland Conservatives
|Headquarters||84 High Street
|Youth wing||Conservative Future|
|National affiliation||Conservative Party|
|European Parliament group||ECR|
|Local Government (NI)|
|House of Commons
|Politics of Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Conservatives (or NI Conservatives) is the section of the Conservative and Unionist Party of the United Kingdom that operates in Northern Ireland. The party has a small support base, attracting 0.5% of the poll (3,500 votes) in the 2007 Assembly election. The Ipsos Mori poll published in February 2013 showed the party's support had risen to 2% of the vote.
In 2009 the party agreed to an electoral alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), whereby the two parties fielded joint candidates for elections to the House of Commons and the European Parliament under the banner of "Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force". Literature and the web site for the 2009 European Parliament election used "Conservatives and Unionists" as the short name. The alliance ended after the 2010 UK General Election. In the 2014 European elections, the party failed to retain its deposit, and in the Local Government elections the same year, the party lost its only council seat in Northern Ireland.
Traditionally the Conservative Party maintained formal links with the UUP, its members taking the Conservative whip in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, much like the then-independent Unionist Party of Scotland, which integrated into the party in England and Wales in the 1960s.
This relationship broke down in 1972, following Unionist opposition to the proposed Sunningdale Agreement, when all but one of the UUP MPs resigned the Conservative whip. The sole exception, Stratton Mills, left the UUP and continued to take the whip for a further year, before joining the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.
Entry into Northern Ireland
The Conservative Party did not organise in Northern Ireland until the late 1980s, when three Unionist members of North Down Borough Council, including George Green, defected to the party. The party doubled its representation there in the local government elections of 1989, becoming the largest party on the council. An Independent Conservative also won a seat on Lisburn Borough council, although he joined the UUP before the 1993 local elections. In the 1989 European Elections the Conservative candidate polled 4.8% and was just 2,000 first preference votes behind the Alliance Party candidate.
Subsequently, the Conservatives were boosted by a number of other defectors. Former UUP Assembly members Dorothy Dunlop and Billy Bleakes defected in Belfast and Lisburn respectively, while Robert Mitchell, a former Stormont MP, defected in Coleraine. Mary Ardill, wife of prominent former Stormont MP Austin Ardill, joined in Carrick; Gary Haggan defected from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Larne, and Billy Dickson from the DUP in Belfast. Lloyd Hall-Thompson, another retired former UUP Stormont politician, became chair of the local Lagan Valley branch.
Relationship with the Ulster Unionist Party
The Conservatives have for some time maintained a close relationship with the UUP. The former UUP leader and First Minister, David Trimble was elevated to the House of Lords on losing his Commons seat. Shortly after standing down from the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007, he took the Conservative whip. On doing so he made it clear that he would not be campaigning on behalf of the Northern Ireland Conservatives in opposition to his former party.
In July 2008 David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey announced a working group to develop a partnership with the UUP. This was implemented in 2009, forming the "Ulster Conservatives and Unionists" for certain electoral purposes, though the Vice Chairman of Conservatives NI, Jeffrey Peel, resigned from the Joint Committee created by both parties.
Relaunch as NI Conservatives
On 14 June 2012 the Conservatives in Northern Ireland were relaunched as 'NI Conservatives'. The party is now autonomous on devolved matters, although it remains a full part of the national Conservative and Unionist Party. The party has a councillor on Larne Council, Dr Brian Dunn. Dunn was first elected as a UUP candidate in 2001, and was last elected as an independent before joining the Conservatives.
As of the June 2014 NI Conservatives AGM the current members of the Party Board are as follows:
- Chairman - Harry Cullen
- Vice Chairman (Political) - Neil Johnston
- Vice Chairman (Membership) - Roger Gilpin
- President - Emma Pidding
- Honorary Vice President - Terry Dick
- Honorary Vice President - Matthew Robinson
Association Chairmen, and a representative from the Northern Ireland Conservative Future Regional Executive also sit on the Party Board.
Northern Ireland Conservative Future
Northern Ireland Conservative Future (NICF) is the official youth movement of the NI Conservatives. It seeks to provide a platform for all centre-right minded young people in Northern Ireland, at the heart of both student politics across Northern Ireland, and the national Conservative Future organisation throughout the United Kingdom.
NICF was re-launched in February 2011, after the election of Matthew Robinson as Regional Chairman. In May 2013, Matthew stood down after serving two terms in the position, and was succeeded by a defector from the Young Unionists, Stephen Goss, as Regional Chairman.
The Conservatives in Northern Ireland currently have a low support base, attracting 0.5% of the poll (3,500 votes) in the 2007 Assembly election. As of 2011[update], they currently have no elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly or Parliament.
The party's best performance came in the 1992 general election, when party candidates polled 44,608 votes across Northern Ireland: 5.7% of the total. Their best performance came in the North Down constituency, where the local party chairman, Laurence Kennedy, came second, 5,000 votes behind the sitting MP James Kilfedder.
Subsequently, the party declined rapidly. In the 1993 council elections, the party lost five council seats, being reduced to six councillors across Northern Ireland. In North Down, the party's support more than halved, from 25% in 1989 to 11% in 1993, although they narrowly managed to win a seat in all four North Down electoral areas. Laurence Kennedy quit Northern Irish politics a few months later, while the party's councillors in Lisburn and Carrick left the party to sit as Independent Unionists. In 1997 they were reduced to two council seats in North Down. Both councillors retired before the 2001 council elections and the party failed to defend one of their seats in 2001 with the other lost, leaving them without elected representation in Northern Ireland.
- "Tory conference: 'Spirts high' in NI delegation". BBC News. 8 October 2012.
- Devenport, Mark (12 May 2009). "Profile: Jim Nicholson". BBC News Online. Retrieved 30 May 2009.
- Local Government Elections 1985–1989: Lisburn
- Gordon Lucy, Northern Ireland Local Government Election Results, Ulster Society Press, 1993
- Northern Ireland Parliamentary Elections Results: Biographies
- Announcement "I will no longer be campaigning in Northern Ireland for Ulster Unionists, but, having got through the Assembly election in good shape, I am confident for their future. I want to thank all those in Ulster Unionism for their help and friendship over the years, to assure them that I will continue to be committed to Ulster’s place within the Union and that I will never campaign against them."
- Summers, Deborah (24 July 2008). "Cameron plans partnership with Ulster Unionists". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- NI, BBC (6 March 2009). "Conservative quits over UUP pact". The BBC (London). Retrieved 16 June 2012.
- Polley, Owen (14 June 2012). "NI Conservatives launch as fresh, centre-right party, in Belfast". NI Conservatives (Belfast). Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- Northern Ireland Political Parties
- Official website of the Conservatives in Northern Ireland
- Official website of the Northern Ireland Consevative Future
- Official website of the Conservative Party across the UK