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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Refused to be Members of the First Dáil - James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon

James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon

James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon PC (8 January 1871 – 24 November 1940) was a prominent Irish unionist politician, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. He was created a baronet in 1918.

Lord Craigavon was born at Sydenham, Belfast, the son of James Craig (1828–1900) a wealthy whiskey distiller; he had entered the firm of Dunville Whisky as a clerk and by aged 40 he was a millionaire and a partner in the firm. James Craig, Snr. owned a large house, Craigavon, overlooking Belfast Lough. His mother, the former Eleanor Gilmore Browne, was the daughter of Robert Browne, a prosperous man who owned property in Belfast and a farm outside Lisburn. He was the seventh child and sixth son in the family; there were eight sons and one daughter in all.

He was educated at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, Scotland; his father had taken a conscious decision not to send his children to any the more fashionable public schools. After school he began work as a stockbroker, eventually opening his own firm in Belfast.

On his return to Ireland, having received a £100,000 legacy from his father's will, he turned to politics, serving as Member of Parliament for East Down from 1906 to 1918. From 1918 to 1921 he represented Mid Down, and served in government as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Pensions (1919-1920) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1920-1921).

Craig rallied the Ulster unionist opposition to Irish Home Rule in Ulster before the First World War, organising the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers and buying arms from Imperial Germany. The Volunteers became the nucleus of the 36th (Ulster) Division during the Great War. He succeeded Edward Carson as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in February 1921.

In the 1921 Northern Ireland general election, the first ever, he was elected to the newly created Northern Ireland House of Commons as member for County Down.

On 7 June 1921 (over two weeks before the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament), Craig was appointed the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. A dedicated member of the Orange Order and staunchly Protestant, he famously stated, in April 1934, in response to Éamon de Valera's assertion that Ireland was a "Catholic nation":

The hon. Member must remember that in the South they boasted of a Catholic
State. They still boast of Southern Ireland being a Catholic State. All I boast
of is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State. It would be
rather interesting for historians of the future to compare a Catholic State
launched in the South with a Protestant State launched in the North and to see
which gets on the better and prospers the more. It is most interesting for me at
the moment to watch how they are progressing. I am doing my best always to top the bill and to be ahead of the South.
He was made a baronet in 1918, and was in 1927 created Viscount Craigavon, of Stormont in the County of Down. He was also the recipient of honorary degrees from the Queen's University of Belfast (1922) and Oxford University (1926).

Craig had made his career in British as well as Ulster politics; but his premiership showed little sign of his earlier close acquaintance with the British political world. He became intensely parochial, and suffered from his loss of intimacy with British politicians in 1938, when the British government concluded agreements with Dublin to end the 'economic war' between the two states, on terms highly unfavourable to Northern Ireland. He never tried to persuade Westminster to protect Northern Ireland's industries, especially the linen industry, which was central to its economy. He was anxious not to provoke Westminster given the precarious state of Northern Ireland's position.

His desire to have Ulster treated like the rest of the United Kingdom was seen in April 1939, and again in May 1940, when he called for conscription to be introduced in the North (which the British government, fearing a nationalist backlash, refused). Lord Craigavon was still prime minister when he died peacefully at his home at Glencraig, County Down in 1940. He was buried on the Stormont Estate, and was succeeded as leader of the Northern Ireland Government by the Minister of Finance John Miller Andrews.

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