1974 – The official Unionist Party is founded.

Up until 1974 the UUP was affiliated with the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, and Ulster Unionist MPs sat with the Conservative Party at Westminster, traditionally taking the Conservative parliamentary whip. To all intents and purposes the party functioned as the Northern Ireland branch of the Conservative Party. In 1974, in protest over the Sunningdale Agreement, the Westminster Ulster Unionist MPs withdrew from the alliance. The party remained affiliated to the National Union but in 1985, they withdrew from it as well, in protest over the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Subsequently, the Conservative Party has organised separately in Northern Ireland, with little electoral success.

Under West’s leadership, the party recruited Enoch Powell, who became Ulster Unionist MP for South Down in October 1974 after defecting from the Conservatives. Powell advocated a policy of ‘integration’, whereby Northern Ireland would be administered as an integral part of the United Kingdom. This policy divided both the Ulster Unionists and the wider Unionist movement, as Powell’s ideas conflicted with those supporting a restoration of devolved government to Northern Ireland. The party also made gains upon the break-up of the Vanguard Party and its merger back into the Ulster Unionists. The separate United Ulster Unionist Party (UUUP) emerged from the remains of Vanguard but folded in the early 1980s, as did the UPNI. In both cases the main beneficiaries of this were the Ulster Unionists, now under the leadership of James Molyneaux (1979–95).

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Photo: Ulster Unionist Party, 1974. Troubled Images Exhibition, Linen Hall Library, Belfast, August 2010.

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