The European Assembly elections in 1979 plunged the Ulster Unionist Party into disarray and signalled the rise of the DUP with Ian Paisley becoming the self appointed “leader of Ulster”, private documents reveal.
Confidential Government papers which have just been released after 30 years show that members of the UUP privately felt “despondent and wholly defeated”.
The UUP won the third seat in the first European election held in the UK — but not until the sixth count. For the first time they were no longer the leading party and were relegated to third place.
In a Government memo it was noted that Paisley’s success was a “major blow” to the confidence of the UUP, whose share of the vote dropped from 36.6% in the General Election to 21.9%.
Privately, several commented that they had just witnessed the “demise of their party”.
The NIO acknowledged that even if the UUP were to retrieve some of their position, “Paisley will be accorded a significantly more influential role in the affairs of the province”.