Harold McCusker was an exceptional politician – one who broke the mould with a sincere and caring attitude to social issues, and a passionate man wedded to core unionist and Orange traditions.
His death in 1990, at just 50, was a body blow to those seeking realignment in unionism to adequately represent those outside party political structures. Personally, and professionally, as a News Letter journalist, I worked closely with this straight-talking Lurgan-born politician and he became my main political source and a close friend.
Had Harold lived until today, unionism would have moved in a more dynamic and meaningful direction. He could be highly emotional, but he was a very direct, highly focused, intelligent politician who appealed particularly to working-class unionists in urban areas. He also empathised with the Protestant border population, especially in south Armagh, and stood solidly with them in the dark years of the Troubles.
In 1985, Harold condemned the Anglo-Irish Agreement that gave Dublin a say in Northern Ireland affairs and it was his dying wish that the words of a blistering attack he levelled at Margaret Thatcher in Westminster be etched on his tombstone in Lurgan cemetery.
He prophetically declared: “I shall carry to my grave with ignominy the sense of the injustice that I have done to my constituents down the years – when, in their darkest hours, I exhorted them to put their trust in this British House of Commons which one day would honour its fundamental obligation to them to treat them as equal British citizens.”
This was a scathing critique from a senior unionist politician who firmly believed that unionism had been shunted on to the window sill of the Union. It conveyed a feeling of deep betrayal of the pro-British population in Northern Ireland.
The dark hand of ‘perfidious Albion’ was again in evidence and, for Harold McCusker, the actions of a Tory government were more than he could stomach. Indeed, on occasions, he would say he had much more in common with social democratic Labour MPs from the north of England than with upper crust ‘Tory toffs’.
As a unionist politician and quite unique individual, Harold McCusker carved a niche that perpetuated an enduring memory and legacy.