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The Orange Institution and the Ulster Unionist Council
The background to the relationship between the Order and the U.U.C.

Whenever the Ulster Unionist Council was formed in 1905, the Orange Institution played a leading role. From that point Orangemen played a prominent part in unionist politics. However, in recent years it was clear that, since there was more than one unionist party, members supported differing political parties. There was also an ongoing debate within the Ulster Unionist Party about the links with the Orange Institution.

The culmination of this situation was that the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland decided in March 2005 not to have formal links with the Ulster Unionist Party. Instead the Grand Lodge has pledged to lobby all unionist parties over issues of concern to Orange brethren. We hope to maintain good relations with the main unionist parties and to encourage a greater sense of unity among our elected politicians.

In this article it is not our intention to comment on the debate which led to the present situation, but simply to provide historical information as to the background of the relationship.

The Ulster Unionist Council was constituted formally at a meeting in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, on March 3, 1905 under the chairmanship of Colonel James McCalmont, M.P. for East Antrim and a Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. The Duke of Abercorn was elected President of the Council and Dr. T.H. Gibson, B.L. the Secretary.

A preliminary meeting, organised by North Armagh M.P., William Moore, had been held on December 2, 1904 with the following resolution passed: "That an Ulster Unionist Council be formed, and that its objects shall be to form an Ulster union for bringing into line all local Unionist associations in the Province of Ulster with a view to consistent and continuous political action, to act as a further connecting link between Ulster Unionists and their parliamentary representatives; to settle in consultation with them the parliamentary policy, and to be the medium of expressing Ulster Unionist opinion as current events may from time to time require, and generally to advance and defend the interests of Ulster Unionism in the Unionist Party".

The Council consisted of not more than 200 members of which 100 were nominated by local Unionist associations, 50 (25 per cent) were nominated by the Orange Order and not more than 50 were co-opted as "distinguished Unionists".

A standing committee was established by the Council, with a third of its memberhsip nominated initially by Colonel Edward Saunderson, M.P. first leader of the Ulster Unionist Parliamentary Party at Westminster. Saunderson, of Castle Saunderson, Belturbet, Co. Cavan, represented the constituency of North Armagh from 1885 until his death in 1906. Bro. Saunderson, whose statue stands in the centre of Portadown, was a Deputy Grand Master of Ireland and the Deputy County Grand Master of Cavan. The remainder of the committee were elected by Council delegates.

This body included leading Orangemen of the day: The Earl of Erne (Grand Master of Ireland and County Master of Fermanagh); Colonel Robert H. Wallace, D.L. (Deputy Grand Master), Walter H.H. Lyons, D.L. (Deputy Grand Master), Edward M. Archdale (Deputy Grand Master), Sir James Stronge (Deputy Grand Master and County Master of Armagh) and William J. Allen (Deputy Grand Master of Armagh).

In 1911 the elected membership of the Ulster Unionist Council was raised to 370, and included representatives from the Unionist Clubs and the Apprentice Boys of Derry. In 1918 representatives of the women's associations were added, bringing the total membership to 432.

Unionist clubs, formed in 1893 by Viscount Templeton, Castle Upton, Templepatrick, spread with great rapidity across Ulster and were in existence even in the southern Irish counties and on the British mainland. More than 100 clubs existed.

After 1921, Unionist leaders felt it desirable to demonstrate the unity of all the Protestant people in supporting the link with Britain, and the composition of the Council changed again, and by 1925 it had a membership of 508. Each of the 28 divisional associations sent 10 Unionist and four Orange representatives, as did associations in Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan. The Queen's University Unionist Association sent 10, the Apprentice Boys four and the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association, Unionist Clubs Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Labour Association and the Ulster Women's Unionist Council 12 each.

In 1929, when proportional representation for Northern Ireland parliamentary elections was abolished, representation on the Council was again re-organised to give six members for each of the 48 constituency associations and a further six each for the three counties outside Northern Ireland. The 12 places previously reserved for the Unionist Clubs, many of which had been reconstituted as constituency associations, were given to the Junior Imperial League Divisional Council of the Ulster Reform Club. The representation of Orange lodges was provided for separately on a county basis, according to membership: Belfast 36, Down 20, Antrim 16, Armagh 12, Tyrone 12, Fermanagh 8, Londonderry 8, City of Londonderry 4, Monaghan 4, Cavan 4 and Donegal 4. Total 128. During the period of the Stormont Parliament (1921-72), the representation on the Ulster Unionist Council from the loyal orders was as high as 138 - 122 from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, 10 from the Association of Loyal Orangewomen and six from the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

The vast majority of Unionist M.Ps. during the 51 year period of the Stormont Parliament were members of the Orange Order. Of the 95 who never received cabinet rank until 1969, 87 (including one woman) were members of the Order. The remaining eight were women and three were elected for the first time in 1969. Only three members of the cabinet during this period were not Orangemen and three others who were left the Institution later. Every Stormont senator during the 1921-68 period was an Orangeman, except the one woman senator. And of the 56 members of the Westminster parliament in the same period, all but two (both women) were lodge members. Every Prime Minister of Northern Ireland during the period 1921-72 was an Orangeman. An estimated 35 of the 60 Unionist members returned to the Northern Ireland Assembly in June 1998 were Orange Order members. Most of them in the Ulster Unionist Party with a significant number in the DUP.


"I have always said I am an Orangeman first and a politician and Member of Parliament afterwards". - Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, in 1934.

"I am delighted to have behind me the great Orange Order" - John M. Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, in 1941.

"Indeed, I am proud to be in the (Orange) Order and those criticising it know nothing about it" - Major James D. Chichester Clark, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, in 1969.

"The Orange Institution is simply a pressure group which is concerned to see that the Ulster Unionist Party remains firm on the Constitution" - the Rev. W. Martin Smyth, Grand Master of Ireland (1972-1996).

There are a few Orange Brethren who feel that we are exclusively a religious Order. While I agree that we are mainly a religious body, the Order has been in the front rank for generations in preserving our constitutional position. The Orange ritual lays it down that it is the duty of Orangemen to support and maintain the laws and constitution. It is fundamentally important that we should continue to do so, for if we lost our constitutional position within the United Kingdom "civil and religious liberty for all" which we are also pledged to support would be endangered" - John M. Andrews, Grand Master of Ireland, in 1950.

The Orange hall has traditionally been the meeting place for the constituency Ulster Unionist associations and branches.

Appendix 1

Under the rules of the Ulster Unionist Council from 1905, the Orange Order was entitled to representation on the Council and on the Executive Committee of the Party. All Orange delegates had to be members of local constituency associations.

Appendix 2

"The Orange Order took on a distinctively Unionist flavour when Home Rule threatened in the 1880s. The effective beginning of the Ulster Unionist Party was a meeting of seven Orangemen, elected as M.Ps. at Westminster in 1886". From Northern Ireland. A Political Diary by W.D. Flackes and Sydney Elliott.

Appendix 3

Resolution from County Armagh Grand Lodge approved by Grand Lodge of Ireland in December 1921: "Returning thanks to Sir James Craig and his colleagues for the firm stand they are making for the liberties of Northern Ireland. That we are quite unable to believe that any concession on our part could make Sinn Feiners into loyal men, and we refuse to sell or surrender our British nationality".

Appendix 4

From Minutes of Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland 1901-1910

Nine Delegates were annually elected from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland to the general committee of the Irish Unionist Alliance, with three on the Alliance's audit and finance committee.

Appendix 5

Minute from meeting of Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland December 7, 1910: "That the Grand Lodge of Ireland give every assistance to the Sub-Committee for Practical Purposes, recently formed by the Ulster Unionist Council".

For further information see "The Ulster Unionist Party 1882 - 1973, It's Development and Organisation" by John F Harbinson, Blackstaff Press 1973