Explain the reasons for the UUP’s decline
The UUP was founded in 1905 and for decades remained the dominant Unionist voice in Northern Ireland. Since partition in 1921 it effectively governed Northern Ireland for 70 years. The transformation in the party’s fortunes since the Good Friday Agreement has been astonishing: from being the largest party in Northern Ireland with 33% of the vote and 10 MPs in 1998 it saw its vote halved to 13% in the recent election with no MPs in 2010-2015.
The Good Friday agreement was the point that marked the beginning of the UUP’s decline and also the beginning of the DUP’s rise to dominance. David Trimble as leader too the party on a highly risky and difficult path to agreement with the Nationalists, as many unionists were suspicious of Sinn Fein. The biggest reason for Unionist anger at the UUP was their acceptance of Sinn Fein in government without any effective decommissioning. The IRA did not completely decommission until 2005. Other issues that lost unionist votes include the Patton Reforms of the RUC, when it lost the ‘royal’ title and agreed to employ a greater proportion of Catholic officers. There was also unionist anger over the prisoner releases that were part of the GFA even though there was still ongoing paramilitary tension.