Brian Faulkner

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The Lord Faulkner of Downpatrick

1st Chief Executive of Northern Ireland
In office
1 January 1974 – 28 May 1974
DeputyGerry Fitt
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byOffice abolished
6th Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
In office
23 March 1971 – 30 March 1972
Preceded byJames Chichester-Clark
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
In office
31 March 1971 – 22 January 1974
Preceded byJames Chichester-Clark
Succeeded byHarry West
Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament
for East Down
In office
19 February 1949 – 30 March 1972
Preceded byAlexander Gordon
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly
for South Down
In office
28 June 1973 – 28 May 1974
Preceded byNew Constituency
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Arthur Brian Deane Faulkner

(1921-02-18)18 February 1921
Helen's Bay, Ireland
Died3 March 1977(1977-03-03) (aged 55)
Seaforde, Northern Ireland
Political partyUlster Unionist Party, UPNI
Spouse(s)Lucy Forsythe
EducationSt Columba's College
Alma materQueen's University Belfast

Arthur Brian Deane Faulkner, Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick, PC (18 February 1921 – 3 March 1977) was the sixth and last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, from March 1971 until his resignation in March 1972. He was also the chief executive of the short-lived Northern Ireland Executive during the first half of 1974.

Early life[edit]

Faulkner was born in Helen's Bay, County Down, the elder of two sons of James and Nora Faulkner. His younger brother was Colonel Sir Dennis Faulkner, CBE VRD UD DL. James Faulkner owned the Belfast Collar Company which traded under the name Faulat. At that time, Faulat was the largest single purpose shirt manufacturer in the world, employing some 3,000 people. He was educated initially at Elm Park preparatory school, Killylea, County Armagh, but at 14 was sent to the Church of Ireland St Columba's College at Rathfarnham in Dublin, although Faulkner was Presbyterian. Faulkner chose St Columba's, preferring to stay in Ireland rather than go to school in England; whilst there his best friend was Michael Yeats, son of W. B. Yeats. He was 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.[citation needed]

Faulkner entered the Queen's University of Belfast in 1939 to study law, but, with the advent of World War II, he quit his studies to work full-time in the family shirt-making business.

Early political career[edit]

Faulkner became involved in unionist politics, the first of his family to do so, and was elected to the Parliament of Northern Ireland as the Ulster Unionist Party Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of East Down in 1949. His vociferous traditional unionist approach to politics ensured him a prominent backbench position. He was, at the time, the youngest ever MP in the Northern Irish Parliament.[1] He was also the first Chairman of the Ulster Young Unionist Council in 1949.

In 1956 Faulkner was offered and accepted the job of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, or Government Chief Whip.

Ministerial office[edit]

In 1959 he became Minister of Home Affairs and his handling of security for most of the Irish Republican Army's Border Campaign of 1956–62 bolstered his reputation in the eyes of the right wing of Ulster unionism.[citation needed]

When Terence O'Neill became Prime Minister in 1963 he offered Faulkner, his chief rival for the job, the post of Minister of Commerce, a post he held until his acrimonious resignation in 1969.

His resignation over the technicalities of how and when to bring in the local government reforms which the British Labour government was pushing for was probably the final nail in the political coffin of Terence O'Neill,[citation needed] who resigned in the aftermath of his failure to achieve a good enough result in the Northern Ireland general election, 1969.

In the ensuing leadership contest, Faulkner was again denied the prize when O'Neill gave his casting vote to his cousin, James Chichester-Clark. In 1970, Faulkner became the Father of the House.

Faulkner came back into government as Minister of Development under Chichester-Clark and in a sharp turn-around, began the implementation of the political reforms that were the main cause of his resignation from O'Neill's cabinet.

Chichester-Clark himself resigned in 1971; the political and security situation and the more intensive British interest proved too much for this mild-mannered man.

Prime Minister[edit]

Promising beginnings[edit]

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

Initial troubles[edit]

However, this initiative (radical at the time) was overtaken by events. A shooting by soldiers of two nationalist youths in Derry caused the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the main opposition, to boycott the Stormont parliament. The political climate deteriorated further when, in answer to a worsening security situation, Faulkner introduced internment on 9 August 1971.[2] This was a disaster; instead of lessening the violence, it caused the situation to worsen.

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

In January 1972, an incident occurred during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in Derry, during which paratroopers shot and killed thirteen unarmed civilians. A fourteenth civilian was to die later. What history has come to know as Bloody Sunday was, in essence, the end of Faulkner's government. In March 1972, Faulkner refused to maintain a government without security powers which the British government under Edward Heath decided to take back. The Stormont parliament was 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 was introduced.

Chief Executive[edit]

In June 1973, elections were held to a new devolved parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly. The elections split the UUP. Faulkner became chief executive in a power-sharing executive with the SDLP and the middle-of-the-road Alliance Party, a political alliance cemented at the Sunningdale Conference that year. However, the prominence in the Sunningdale Agreement of the cross-border Council of Ireland suggested that Faulkner had strayed too far ahead of his party. A section of the party had previously broken away to form the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party, which contested the elections in opposition to the UUP.

The power-sharing Executive which he led lasted only six months and was brought down by a loyalist Ulster Workers Council Strike in May 1974. Loyalist paramilitary organisations were prominent in intimidating utility workers and blockading roads. The strike had the tacit support of many unionists. In 1974, Faulkner lost the leadership of the UUP to anti-Sunningdale elements led by Harry West. He subsequently resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party and formed his own Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.

Faulkner's party fared badly in the Convention elections of 1975, winning only five out of the 78 seats contested. Whereas Faulkner had topped the poll in South Down in 1973 with over 16,000 votes, he polled just 6,035 votes in 1975 and finished seventh, winning the final seat.[3] In 1976 Faulkner announced that he was quitting active politics. He was elevated to the House of Lords in the New Year's Honours list of 1977, being created Baron Faulkner of Downpatrick, of Downpatrick in the County of Down on 7 February 1977.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Lord and Lady Faulkner of Downpatrick

Faulkner married Lucy Forsythe, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1951. They met through their common interests in politics and hunting. She was equally suited to a political partnership having had a career in journalism with the Belfast Telegraph and was secretary to the Northern Ireland Prime Minister, Sir Basil Brooke, when they met. Together they had three children: a daughter and two sons. They took up residence at Highlands, not far from the village of Seaforde. One of his sons, Michael, has written a memoir, "The Blue Cabin" (2006) about his move to the family's former holiday house on the island of Islandmore on Strangford Lough.

Brian Faulkner was a member of the Apprentice Boys of Derry but was expelled from the group in 1971.[5]


Lord Faulkner, a keen huntsman, died on 3 March 1977 at the age of 56 following a riding accident whilst hunting with the County Down Staghounds near Saintfield, County Down. Faulkner had been riding at full gallop along a narrow country road when his horse slipped. Faulkner was thrown off and killed instantly. He was laid to rest at Magherahamlet Presbyterian Church near Spa in County Down where he had been a regular member of the congregation. Lord Faulkner had retired from active politics and was pursuing his interests in industry at the time of his death. He had recently become a European consultant for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, a company which he proved instrumental in attracting to Northern Ireland during his tenure as Minister of Commerce. His twenty-four-day life peerage was thus the shortest-lived[6] until the death of Lord Heywood of Whitehall in 2018 just nine days after ennoblement, although there have been hereditary peerages, such as that of Lord Leighton, which have been shorter still.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ulster Biography".
  2. ^ "1971: NI activates internment law". 9 August 1971 – via
  3. ^ Whyte, Nicholas. "South Down 1973-85".
  4. ^ "No. 47146". The London Gazette. 10 February 1977. p. 1879.
  5. ^ [1] "Who are the Apprentice Boys"-BBC News
  6. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • The Lord Faulkner, Memoirs of a Statesman, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1978 (An autobiography published posthumously)
  • David Bleakley, Faulkner, Mowbrays, London, 1974
  • Andrew Boyd, Brian Faulkner and the Crisis of Ulster Unionism, Anvil Books, Tralee, Ireland, 1972.
  • The Honourable Michael Faulkner, The Blue Cabin, Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 2006.
  • Mark Carruthers, Brian Faulkner 'Soft Hardliner': an assessment of political leadership in a divided society, unpublished MSc thesis Queen's University Belfast (QUB), 1989.
  • James P. Condren, Brian Faulkner – Ulster Unionist: The long road to the premiership, PhD thesis, University of Ulster, 2005.
Parliament of Northern Ireland
Preceded by
Alexander Gordon
Member of Parliament for East Down
Parliament abolished
Preceded by
Terence O'Neill
Father of the House
Northern Ireland Assembly (1973)
New assembly Assembly Member for South Down
Assembly abolished
Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention
New convention Member for South Down
Convention dissolved
Political offices
Preceded by
Walter Topping
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Finance
Succeeded by
Isaac George Hawthorne
Preceded by
Walter Topping
Minister of Home Affairs
Succeeded by
William Craig
Preceded by
Ivan Neill
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
James Chichester-Clark
Preceded by
Jack Andrews
Minister of Commerce & Production
Succeeded by
Roy Bradford
Preceded by
William James Long
Minister of Development
Preceded by
James Chichester-Clark
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland
Office abolished
Minister of Home Affairs
Preceded by
Terence O'Neill
Father of the House of the Parliament of Northern Ireland
Title abolished
New office Chief Executive of Northern Ireland
Office abolished
Party political offices
Preceded by
Walter Topping
Unionist Chief Whip
Succeeded by
Isaac George Hawthorne
Preceded by
James Chichester-Clark
Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
Succeeded by
Harry West
New office Leader of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Anne Dickson