Tom Boyd

East Belfast socialist and leader of the Northern Ireland Labour Party in the Stormont Parliament

Born in April 1903, the second of nine children, Thomas William Boyd left Ravenscroft School in Bloomfield on his thirteenth birthday. He worked in the Sheriff’s Office on Mountpottinger Road and as a gatehouse messenger at Harland & Wolff before starting a patternmaking apprenticeship in 1919.

Active in the Patternmakers’ Union, and instrumental in its affiliation to the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP), of which he was a leading member, Tom Boyd also worked in support of the republic during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and actively opposed the Munich Agreement.

In the Stormont elections of 1938 Boyd unsuccessfully fought Sir Dawson Bates who, as Minister for Home Affairs, had ordered police attacks on the 1932 Outdoor Relief demonstrations. In the 1945 general election he reduced the Unionist majority in the East Belfast constituency from 20,000 to 4,000, but not until 1958 did Boyd win a parliamentary seat, representing Pottinger in the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont for more than a decade.

Three other Belfast seats were won by NILP candidates in the same elections. With Nationalists refusing the role, Boyd, as leader of the Labour members, was recognized as leader of the official Opposition at Stormont.

In his final speech to the Stormont parliament in January 1969 Boyd, defending Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, also argued that ‘nothing less than British standards in citizenship shall apply here.’ Northern Ireland, he said, had ‘lower standards of democracy [than the rest of the UK] particularly in the failure of the Government to permit all adult citizens to vote in local government elections.’

At the outset of the long campaign of political violence, Boyd laid ‘the major blame’ for Northern Ireland’s crisis ‘with the Prime Minister’ for his ‘failure to meet the legitimate needs and aspirations of moderate people of all sections of the community.’

Boyd served for many years on the Social Services Committee of The Presbyterian Church. He was Chairman of a churches working party on housing in Northern Ireland in 1973, but by this time his advocacy of ‘neighbourliness and integration’ seemed to have been overtaken by events.

Thomas William Boyd JP died on 6th December 1991.

Further reading:
Trade Unionism, Socialism and Partition: the Labour Movement in Northern Ireland 1939-1953 (1993) by T Cradden