Martin Smyth

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Martin Smyth
Member of Parliament
for Belfast South
In office
5 March 1982 – 11 April 2005
Preceded byRobert Bradford
Succeeded byAlasdair McDonnell
Personal details
Born (1931-06-15) 15 June 1931 (age 87)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Political partyUlster Unionist Party
Alma materTrinity College, Dublin

Reverend William Martin Smyth (born 15 June 1931) is a Northern Irish unionist politician, and was Ulster Unionist Party Member of Parliament for Belfast South from 1982 to 2005. He was a Vice-President of the Conservative Monday Club.

He is also an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and was minister of Raffrey, County Down from 1957 to 1963 and of Alexandra Church, Belfast 1963-1982.

Early life[edit]

Smyth was brought up in the Donegall Road area of Belfast and attended Methodist College Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin.[1]

Beginning of political career[edit]

Smyth became Grand Master of the Orange Order in 1971, in what was seen at the time as a working-class "grass roots" revolt against the till middle-class leadership of the Order. (He remained Grand Master until 1996). In the 1970s, he was a Deputy Leader of the Vanguard movement which had emerged as a faction within the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). However, when this faction split from the UUP to form the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, Smyth chose to remain with the UUP. His name was linked in the Belfast Telegraph with the UUP candidacy for the Belfast North constituency in 1974[citation needed]. However, he did not stand there, and the following year, he was elected to the Constitutional Convention for Belfast South, polling more than double the electoral quota.[2]

Member of Parliament[edit]

He was selected to fill the vacancy caused by the murder of Robert Bradford. Smyth was consequently elected Member of Parliament in a 1982 by-election, receiving 17,123 votes.[2] Later the same year, he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, again polling double the electoral quota.[2] He along with all other Unionist MPs resigned his seat in 1985 in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement. He successfully defended his seat in the subsequent by election.[3] In his paper "A Federated People" (published by the Joint Unionist Working Party in 1987), Smyth proposed a federal United Kingdom with the state governments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each being autonomous from each other and, most significantly, fully independent from the federal parliament and government of the United Kingdom at Westminster.

Smyth was on the parliamentary advisory board of Western Goals (UK) which held a well-attended fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in October 1988 on the subject of "International Terrorism - how the West can fight back". He was one of numerous high-profile speakers including General Sir Walter Walker, Andrew Hunter MP, Sir Alfred Sherman and Harvey Ward.[4] Hunter and Ward both gave considerable detail to the meeting concerning top-level links between the IRA and ANC.[5]

Having won first place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills, Smyth successfully introduced the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Bill to afford disabled people in Northern Ireland analogous rights for disabled people elsewhere in the United Kingdom as provided for in the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. Smyth's Bill received Royal Assent in 1989.

David Trimble's leadership[edit]

He ran for the leadership of the UUP in 1995 after James Molyneaux stood down but lost to David Trimble. He was opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, but he was considered a moderate in the early 1990s. He was condemned in 1993 by the Democratic Unionist Party for suggesting that talks with Sinn Féin might be possible.[6] He challenged Trimble for the party leadership in 2000 and was again unsuccessful.[7] He was unsuccessfully challenged for the UUP nomination in Belfast South by Michael McGimpsey[8] before the 2001 general election, and went on to hold the seat. In 2001 he was elected to the position of President of the party. In 2003, he, along with David Burnside and Jeffrey Donaldson, resigned the party whip[9] due to disagreements over the British Irish Declaration of 2003.[10] He attempted to dissuade Donaldson from resigning from the party entirely.[citation needed] In January 2004, Smyth and Burnside retook the UUP whip.[11] Later that year he lost the party Presidency in the annual election at the Ulster Unionist Council, polling 329 votes to Lord Rogan, who won with 407 votes. The same meeting saw an unsuccessful challenge to Trimble's leadership.

End of political career and 2005 general election[edit]

In January 2005, Smyth announced he would be stepping down from Parliament at the next election to spend more time with his wife. He ended his House of Commons career in May 2005. During the election Smyth courted controversy when he and former Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux appeared in a photograph with Democratic Unionist Party candidate Jimmy Spratt on Spratt's election literature.[12] Smyth denied endorsing Spratt stating:

The candidates Smyth did canvass for were David Burnside in South Antrim and Rodney McCune in North Antrim.[12] In the event neither Unionist candidate won in South Belfast, with the seat being taken by the Social Democratic and Labour Party's Alasdair McDonnell amidst a split in the vote between the two Unionist parties.[14]


  1. ^ Lynn, Brendan. "Biographies of People Prominent During 'the Troubles'". CAIN Web Service. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  2. ^ a b c South Belfast 1973-1984 ARK - Access Research Knowledge
  3. ^ South Belfast, 1983-1992 ARK - Access Research Knowledge
  4. ^ Labour Research, November 1988, p.2.
  5. ^ Young European Newsletter, December 1988 edition, published by Western Goals (UK), London.
  6. ^ Martin Smyth: A hardline challenger? BBC News, 23 March 2000
  7. ^ Rev Martin Smyth BBC News, 21 October 2002
  8. ^ Smyth wins UUP selection battle BBC News, 16 February 2001
  9. ^ MP warns of UUP crisis BBC News, 27 August 2003
  10. ^ Trimble calls emergency meeting of sundered UUP 4NI, 25 June 2003
  11. ^ Burnside and Smyth resume UUP Whip 4NI, 12 January 2004
  12. ^ a b Kerr, Michael David Trimble and the 2005 General election, Dublin (2005) pg 58
  13. ^ Kerr, Michael (December 2005). 'Transforming Unionism: David Trimble and the 2005 General election'. Irish Academic Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-7165-3389-4.
  14. ^ South Belfast ARK - Access Research Knowledge

External links[edit]

Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention
New convention Member for South Belfast
Convention dissolved
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Robert Bradford
Member of Parliament for Belfast South
Succeeded by
Alasdair McDonnell
Northern Ireland Assembly (1982)
New assembly MPA for South Belfast
Assembly abolished
Party political offices
New political party Deputy Leader of Ulster Vanguard
Served alongside: Austin Ardill
Succeeded by
Ernest Baird and Lindsay Smyth
Preceded by
Sir Joe Cunningham
President of the Ulster Unionist Party
Succeeded by
Lord Rogan
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
John Bryans
Grand Master of the Orange Institution of Ireland
Succeeded by
Robert Saulters