Scion of Londonderry Unionism recalls Callaghan as a man of his word
STATE documents released under the thirty-year-rule have revealed veteran County Londonderry Unionist William Ross was amongst a delegation of politicians courted by a beleaguered Labour Government throughout 1978.
The Dungiven-based politician was amongst 10 Ulster Unionist MPs attending Westminster in the turbulent late-seventies.
He is now honorary president of Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) but previously served 27 years as MP for Londonderry and latterly East Londonderry.
Newly-released documents depict a floundering Labour Government, led by James Callaghan, looking at its options with a year of parliament left to run in 1978.
Under pressure from the Tories, who were pushing for a vote of no confidence against his “ghost government,” Callaghan looked to the largest minority groupings of the time; David Steele’s Liberals (13 seats), Enoch Powell’s Ulster United Unionist Coalition (10 seats) and the Scottish National Party.
Speaking to the Sentinel Mr Ross recalled Callaghan as a man of his word and as the person responsible for increasing Ulster’s representation at Westminster from 12 seats to 17/18 dependant on population.
This had been one of the key demands of the UUUC block led by Powell and James Molyneaux. Powell particularly felt greater representation in London and therefore greater integration was the best alternative in the absence of a return to democratically devolved Government in Belfast.
Mr Ross said: “The first thing I would say about Callaghan is that he was a man of his word. When he said something, when he gave his word he did not go back on it. The same can not be said for some of the politicians who came after him.
“He was not somebody I would have shared a lot in common with but he believed in the United Kingdom in a way that some later politicians clearly didn’t.
“Don’t forget he introduced the increase in the number of seats in Westminster for Northern Ireland from 12 up to 17 or 18 depending on our position within the United kingdom.”
Fresh documents on the period reveal the Callaghan Government’s acute awareness of the importance of the Ulster Unionists in the numbers game. But it was also aware of the uncertainty of their support.
Minutes from one cabinet briefing at the time acknowledge two principal aims of the Ulster Unionist grouping.
The first was to secure a commitment to increase Ulster representation at Westminster “when Parliamentary circumstances permit.”
The Government did introduce a bill to this effect in its Legislative Programme. The second was to increase local Government in Northern Ireland, by re-establishing the Stormont administration.
Mr Ross said his current involvement with the TUV reflects an adherence to the principles the UUUC upheld at that time.
“It’s not unexpected is it?” he asked. “I don’t think the demands of Unionism have changed.
At the time Irish Nationalism replaced one set of demands with another and then set up another list of demands behind them.”
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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