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Roy Bradford (1920 - 1998):
Politician; author and journalist

Roy Bradford
©Creative Commons

Roy Bradford was an almost accidental politician: only in his 40s did he show any active interest in politics, but he became a senior Northern Ireland Government figure and was at the centre of the turbulent events of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Bradford was from Ligoniel in north Belfast, though his father's family originally came from County Monaghan, and he went to school at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution; from there he proceeded to the University of Dublin, where he excelled academically, winning a Foundation Scholarship in his first year, a notable achievement, and gaining a first class honours degree and a Gold Medal in French and German in 1942. This ability - and not just this as he was man of high intelligence and wide intellectual interests - led him to work for Army Intelligence from 1943-1947, where he was stationed in north-west Europe. When the war ended he worked in army broadcasting. He was not new to broadcasting having already worked as a sports commentator for RTÉ in Dublin (he had been approached by German representatives in neutral wartime Dublin to work for them but declined). On his return to the United Kingdom he worked as  a writer and broadcaster for the BBC and ITV, becoming known through the leading (and high quality and not seldom controversial) current affairs reportage and analysis programme This Week, where as a reporter he specialised in Common Market affairs. He also published short stories and in 1960 a novel, "Excelsior". But it was an invitation from the Ulster Unionist Party to prepare a publication on Northern Ireland and the European Communities which brought him into contact with politics.

In the early 1960s, Bradford had twice failed to win a nomination to contest a Westminster seat, though his defeats were narrow. But in 1965, the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O'Neill, faced with a growingly self-confident Northern Ireland Labour Party, invited Bradford to contest the (reasonably) safe NILP Victoria seat in Belfast in the 1965 Northern Ireland elections; Bradford, standing as a "Liberal Unionist", managed to general surprise to unseat the popular incumbent, David Bleakley.

He advanced quickly in government, in 1966 becoming assistant whip, in 1967 Minister of Education, in 1968 Chief Whip, from 1969-1971 he served as Minister of Commerce, and from 1971-1972 as Minister of Development.  This impressive career ended abruptly, however, when the Government in London "prorogued" (suspended) the Northern Ireland Parliament, a move of which Bradford was very critical. But in elections the following year, Bradford was returned to the replacement body, the Northern Ireland Assembly, as a member for East Belfast, and when the year after that the new Northern Ireland Executive began to operate, Bradford was its Minister for the Environment. This Executive was challenged first by the United Kingdom General Election results in early 1974, when Unionist opinion was demonstrably very much opposed to the new arrangements (known generically as "Sunningdale" after the English town where they had been agreed). Then in May, a widespread strike organised by anti-Sunningdale Unionists - certainly the "power-sharing" element -was successful in making the Government bring the new arrangements in Northern Ireland to an end.

During the strike, Bradford, who had been in favour of Sunningdale, had suggested that the Government in London might have direct contact with the organisers of the strike, a suggestion which angered many of his Executive colleagues, in part because some of these organisers were representatives of paramilitary organisations. Many thought that this damaged either his credibility, his loyalty to the Executive, or both. Bradford himself defended his views as being simple realism. In June he resigned from the pro-Sunningdale Unionist group under Brian Faulkner, and allied himself with the anti-Sunningdale Unionist Party led by Harry West. Failure to secure election to the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention in 1975 effectively signified not a complete end to his political career, but nevertheless did serve to propel him away from politics to concentrate on some of his other interests, of which there were many, some in business, some in cultural relations, and many in journalism. He became involved with the European Movement in Northern Ireland, becoming its chairman in 1977 and its president in 1987. He was an active member of the cross-border Irish Association for Economic and Cultural Relations, and took an interest in other such cross-border activities. He had a weekly column in the Belfast Newsletter, one of the three major newspapers in Northern Ireland. He published a novel, The Last Ditch, which described the events of the end of the Northern Ireland Parliament, though there were some for whom the description of it as a novel was a rather thin veil. His last book, which he co-authored, invoked his wartime years, a biography of a great Ulster military figure, Blair Mayne.

Bradford slipped quietly back into active politics in 1989 when he was elected to North Down Borough Council, becoming Mayor of that borough in 1995. Though his commentaries on political developments remained rather traditionally Unionist; criticising the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and certain bodies created at the same time, he nevertheless forbore to criticise the developments in the 1990s which would culminate in the Belfast Agreement of 1998. One fellow councillor in North Down described Bradford as "the most gifted man with words, a born raconteur". And not only in English, to which the then French Consul in Belfast would enthusiastically attest. His wife, whom he met while they were at the University of Dublin (she too was a first class honours graduate) was also involved in North Down politics, serving also as Mayor, as well having numerous other public service interests.

Born: 7 December 1920
Died: 2 September 1998
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann