Problems with protocol very like Home Rule crisis says relative of ex-PM

GRAEME COUSINS chats to the great grandson of former Northern Ireland prime minister J M Andrews

Johnny Andrews with a portrait of his great grandfather and Northern Ireland's second prime minister J M Andrews.
Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.
Johnny Andrews with a portrait of his great grandfather and Northern Ireland's second prime minister J M Andrews. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.

The great grandson of a former prime minister of Northern Ireland has said those in power now would do well to take a leaf out of the book of the men who set up the country’s first parliament.

Those men included J M Andrews, who had a key role to play as minister of labour and finance during the first 20 years of NI before becoming its prime minister from 1940 to 1943.

His great grandson Johnny Andrews is an advocate of liberal democracy, which he says is in his blood, having descended from a lineage which includes United Irishman William Drennan.

The celebration of Northern Ireland’s centenary provided Johnny, a chartered accountant who lives in Comber, with an opportunity to explore the role his great grandfather played in the formation of the country.

He said: “He was very much involved in the setting up of the state when it was under such pressure to survive.

“During the Second World War as prime minister he believed that he was fighting for all of Ireland.

“Before he became prime minister, as labour and then finance minister, he achieved parity with the rest of the UK in terms of welfare state benefits. Within 10 years of the government forming here we were able to avail of full unemployment benefit. Medical benefits started coming – a precursor to the National Health Service.

“Most of it was because the unionists had built up good relations with the Conservatives in London, in contrast to what we have now. My great grandfather had a good relationship with Churchill and also Neville Chamberlain, who was chancellor in the 1930s.

“It was important to have good relations with the south and he always felt he was an Irish unionist first as well as being British. He very much valued the connection with Great Britain for free trade and good business.

“The United Kingdom including Ireland was the greatest example of a free single market in the world with the four nations having equal trade. This protocol has driven a coach and horses right through that free trade area which is staggering.”

Johnny was born three years after his great grandfather died in 1956, but it wasn’t until he was eight or nine that he was told how important he’d been in setting up NI’s first government.

He said: “Up until then I wouldn’t have been conscious of what it meant to be involved in politics. By my teenage years I was fascinated with Irish history and politics.

Politics was talked about a lot in the family. It made me want to read and read and read.

“This great liberal unionist tradition in our family came from United Irishman William Drennan who was my great grandfather’s great grandfather.

“The United Irishmen were fighting for all these democratic principles in the 18th century. They consisted of Presbyterians as well as Catholics fighting for liberal democratic principles.”

Johnny’s passion for politics saw him set up the Conservative and Unionist electoral alliance of 2010, then as a member of the Ulster Unionist Party.

He left the UUP when the party dropped its links to the Conservative Party, and then stood for the Conservatives in the 2015 general election.

Commenting further on the NI Protocol, he said: “In many ways the whole debate about the protocol is a repetition of the Home Rule crisis. If a lot of people who were negotiating the protocol had read their history books they would realise there are two sides to the story here.

“We’ve had a two-state solution here, there’s a reason for it – there are two traditions here, there are two cultures, and the Good Friday Agreement was deliberately set up to accommodate and straddle a solution that both cultures could adopt.”

Johnny is currently working with The Francis Hutcheson Institute: “One of the things we’re trying to do at the moment is promote better governance in Northern Ireland.

“Twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement we really should have proper democracy where you can actually throw your government out. I think it would create more responsibility in government, there would be less of these crises and meltdowns and suspensions.”

Who was Frances Hutcheson?

Frances Hutcheson was professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University.

Johnny, who works with the institute bearing his name, said: “We wish to promote his principles of liberal democracy, civic society, science, tolerance.

“These were the principles that my great grandfather would have espoused. They go right back to the United Irishmen and William Drennan.”

Find out more by visiting

Recommending a centenary exhibition, Johnny gave the nod to the display in the North Down Museum at Bangor Castle.

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Alistair Bushe