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Topical Budget 534-1: Historic Unionist Conference at Liverpool (1921)


Main image of Topical Budget 534-1: Historic Unionist Conference at Liverpool (1921)
35mm, black and white, 43 feet, silent
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

Despite strong opposition, the Unionist party decides to support the Government - provided Ulster is safeguarded.

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This story was one of an impressive sequence of Topical Budget pieces following the Irish crisis that resulted in the partition surviving to this day. The great silent newsreel covered these enfolding events in surprising depth and with impressive balance.

The focus here is on the loyalist side. The conference of the title was indeed historic: Unionists there committed themselves to supporting the British government negotiating the separation of Southern Ireland from the Union. They did so on the basis that the North's position in the UK would be copper-fastened. The rest (as the cliché has it, most appropriately on this occasion) is history.

The film's fascination, however, is the remarkably full picture it conveys - in a mere 30 seconds - of Unionism as a political and class coalition. Bandsmen drumming on the streets suggest its working-class base; well-dressed dignitaries leaving the conference demonstrate its 'Big House' aristocratic leadership. The portrait shot of major national and local Conservative politician Sir Lamington Worthington Evans emphasises not only his role in the conference but also Irish Unionism's close ties to the mainland Conservative Party (which had merged with breakaway Liberal Unionists only nine years earlier). The slogans on the drums seek to appeal to wider mainland sentiment, stressing the loyal contribution Ulster had voluntarily made to World War One. (While it's true that northern protestants' sacrifices were great - not least at the Somme - northern unionism and southern nationalism have effectively connived to suppress the equally moving history of Irish Catholics' contribution to the British war effort, a process that can be seen starting here.)

Significant to all of this is the placing of the conference, highlighted by the Topical Budget story's title. Liverpool, like Glasgow, is a west coast British city with close ties to both Catholic and Protestant communities in Ireland, and a consequent history of sectarian tensions. Though hard to credit now, for many years after 1921 working-class Conservatism maintained a presence in the city largely on the strength of old communal feelings among some protestants that can be traced to the traumatic events of 1916-22, and before that to the 19th century immigration by Irish Catholics and Protestants that contributed so much to the city's unique culture.

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
Complete item (0:37)
Topical Budget: Ireland
Liverpool: Speaking Out