Ex-UUP leader Harry West feared party could split

Harry West was UUP leader from 1974 to 1979
Harry West was UUP leader from 1974 to 1979

Some Ulster Unionists – including former leader Harry West – feared that their party was on the verge of splitting in 1986, according to a note released at the Public Record Office in Belfast.

A May 21 1986 memo by J E McConnell in the Political Affairs Division of the NIO recorded details of conversations with four unnamed UUP members, all of whom were “committed devolutionists”.

Generally, individuals who met with civil servants are identified in the files. However, elsewhere in the file it is made clear that because of unionist claims that they were not engaging with the Government in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement, those DUP and UUP members who continued to speak to officials should not be referred to by name.

However, one such individual who kept speaking to NIO officials appears to have been the then UUP general secretary Frank Miller.

It is unclear whether he is one of the four members who met Mr McConnell in May 1986.

During a turbulent period within unionism, each of those UUP members expressed concerns at the continued split within the party between those supporting devolution and ‘integrationists’ – those pushing for further integration between Northern Ireland and the UK, rather than a return to Stormont.

“One of the [UUP members] said he would not be surprised if a more formal split occurred which would further weaken the UUP viz-a-viz the DUP.

“I asked what he meant and was told it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that a new party would be formed.

“This idea was more or less rubbished by those present but this thought was repeated to me this morning by a unionist contact in the North West who told me that such a possibility had been discussed between himself and Harry West no later than Monday.”