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Clifford Forsythe (1929 - 2000):
Politician


Clifford Forsythe

Forsythe was the MP for South Antrim from 1983 until his demise. He was probably known more for his diligent, behind-the-scenes work than for more high-profile activity.

He attended Glengormley Public Elementary School, after which he became a professional footballer, appearing as centre-forward for both Linfield Football Club in Belfast, certainly at that time regarded as a Protestant, Unionist entity, and Derry City FC, which was not. He also worked as a plumbing and heating contractor.

Clifford Forsythe entered politics as a member of the Ulster Unionist Party; he served as an Executive Member of the Ulster Unionist Council from 1980-1983 and was elected to Newtonabbey Borough Council in 1981. He served as Mayor in 1983. In 1982 he won a seat in the new Northern Ireland Assembly, representing South Antrim. While the Assembly was in operation (1982-1986), he served on various of its committees including Environment, Finance and Personnel, and Health and Social Services, of which last he was Deputy Chairman.

During his 17 years at Westminster, he served as the Ulster Unionist Party's spokesman on Social Security, Transport and Communications. In 1986, Forsythe, along with the other 14 Unionist MPs (that is, the Ulster Unionists, the Democratic Unionists and the one Ulster Popular Unionist, James Kilfedder) resigned his seat in protest at the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for the United Kingdom and Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald. More succinctly, the MPs' objection was that the population of Northern Ireland had not been consulted about giving the Irish Government a formal say in the government of Northern Ireland. The objective of the resignations was that, in the absence of such consultation, the resulting by-elections would serve as a referendum de facto, with the number of votes more significant as an aim that the actual re-election of the candidates (in fact, one seat would be lost).

(An interesting procedural point arose, as because of long-standing Parliamentary rules, no Member of Parliament may resign directly. Instead, the MP must take up an office of profit under the Crown, in the gift of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of which there are only four: the offices of "steward or bailiff of Her Majesty's three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough or Burnham, or of the Manor of Northstead". This rule and practice date back to a Resolution of the House of Commons, dated 2 March 1623, and such appointments have not been refused since 1775. Hence, the 15 outgoing MPs had to be appointed to each office of profit alternately. Forsythe therefore could therefore accurately be said to have held one of the oldest state posts in the United Kingdom).

In South Antrim, in the absence of any non-Unionist candidate, a nominal candidate stood, as had there been no contestant there would have been no votes cast. Nevertheless, Forsythe won 30,087 votes, representing 94.1% of the total votes cast. In any case, the outcome of the entire exercise was a kind of Pyrrhic draw: though the Unionists of the various parties managed to amass over 418,000 votes (a not-inconsiderable sum, approximating to one-quarter of the entire population of Northern Ireland of all ages), they had hoped for more - but the result would effectively have been ignored anyway, as indeed it was.

On constitutional matters, Forsythe, Party spokesman on transport, communications and local government, was fundamentally in favour of what was called "administrative devolution", that is, governmental and administrative powers then in the hands of the Northern Ireland Office (that body composed of ministers appointed by the Government in London) and what came to be known as "quangos" (an acronym for "quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations", which comprised government appointees and were not publically accountable), should properly be for locally-elected representatives to execute. He was - like many in the Ulster Unionist Party - cautious if not suspicious about developments in the 1990s under their new leader, David Trimble (a future Nobel Laureate for Peace, an honour he would receive for what he was to achieve as Leader of the Party), and like many Unionists (though - a close-run thing - not a majority) opposed the Belfast Agreement of 1998. However, he never publicly criticised the leadership and was seemingly more interested in more everyday issues such as the taxes levied on Belfast-London air travel. Outside politics, he was chairman of the Glengormley branch of the Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association.

Forsythe died unexpectedly after a short illness; especially poignant for someone who had always kept up an active athletic life. Tributes to him were warm from across the political spectrum.



Born: 25 August 1929
Died: 27 April 2000
Richard Froggatt
Acknowledgements:

Wesley McCann