Ulster Democratic Party

Ulster Democratic Party
Founded June 1981
Dissolved November 2001
Preceded by New Ulster Political Research Group
Succeeded by Ulster Political Research Group
Ideology Ulster nationalism

The Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) was a small loyalist political party in Northern Ireland. It was established in June 1981 as the Ulster Loyalist Democratic Party by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) to replace their New Ulster Political Research Group. The UDP name had previously been used in the 1930s by an unrelated party which had contested Belfast Central.[1]

With their roots firmly in the Protestant community of Northern Ireland, their initial political stance was not the traditional unionist one favoured by that section of society. Instead they supported independence for Northern Ireland within the European Economic Community and the Commonwealth. These policies had been set out by their predecessors in the New Ulster Political Research Group in their Beyond the Religious Divide policy document.[2] However, this position did not capture the electorate's imagination, and they switched to supporting the UDA's Common Sense position, which suggested an assembly and executive for the region, elected by proportional representation. They also supported a written Bill of Rights and Constitution.

In the early years the party's electoral support was limited. Their first foray into electoral politics was deeply disappointing [3] with the party leader John McMichael polling only 576 votes (1.3%) in the 1982 Belfast South by-election. The party's two candidates in the assembly elections in North Belfast similarly failed to make an impact. It was not until 1989 that the party made its electoral breakthrough when Ken Kerr won a seat in the Waterside area to Derry City Council. Although he lost the seat in 1993, the party, which had dropped the "loyalist" part of their name in late 1989, won a seat in Lisburn held by Gary McMichael, the son of the former leader who had been assassinated in 1987. They increased their number of council seats to four in 1997.

This was due in part to their increased public profile after the UDP played a role in the loyalist cease-fire of 1994 and contested the 1996 elections to the Northern Ireland Forum. Although they failed to win any constituency seats, as one of the ten most successful parties, they were awarded two "top-up" seats, taken by Gary McMichael and John White. This entitled the party a place in the all-party talks that led to the 1998 Belfast Agreement. In January 1998 the UDP voluntarily withdrew from the peace talks before they were expelled in response to a number of murders committed by the Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name for the UDA.

The party officially supported devolution for Northern Ireland and the creation of an assembly but in this they were at odds with the UDA and much of the party's membership,[4] leading to a split in the party. The UDP failed to win any seats at the 1998 elections for the assembly. The party lost a council seat in 2001 and saw its support reduced. (The party's candidates had been forced to run as independents after the party forgot to register its name with the electoral commission.)[5]

The disagreement over the Belfast Agreement between the UDP leadership and the UDA, and within the UDP itself continued with Gary McMichael declaring July 2001 that the UDP could no longer speak for the UDA following the paramilitary group declaring itself anti-Agreement.[6] As a result of these tensions in November 2001 the party dissolved.[7] Its role has largely been taken over by the Ulster Political Research Group.


  1. Election results in Belfast
  2. Ian S. Wood, Crimes of Loyalty: A History of the UDA, Edinburgh University Press, 2006, pp. 73-74
  3. P. Taylor, Loyalists, London: Bloomsbury, 2000
  4. Loyalist party split over peace accord from bbc.co.uk
  5. UDP from Sunday Mirror, May 6 2001
  6. Anderson, Brendan (11 December 2001). "McMichael Career in Doubt". Irish Voice   via HighBeam Research (subscription required) . Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  7. CAIN: Abstract of Organisations
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