Tommy Henderson
Thomas Gibson Henderson (13 October 1887 – 14 August 1970) was an Ulster
Ulster is one of the four provinces of Ireland, located in the north of the island. In ancient Ireland, it was one of the fifths ruled by a "king of over-kings" . Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, the ancient kingdoms were shired into a number of counties for administrative and judicial...

Independent (politician)
In politics, an independent or non-party politician is an individual not affiliated to any political party. Independents may hold a centrist viewpoint between those of major political parties, a viewpoint more extreme than any major party, or they may have a viewpoint based on issues that they do...

 Unionist politician. He served in the House of Commons of Northern Ireland
House of Commons of Northern Ireland
The House of Commons of Northern Ireland was the lower house of the Parliament of Northern Ireland created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The upper house in the bicameral parliament was called the Senate. It was abolished with the passing of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act...

 from 1925 to 1953 in vigorous opposition to the Unionist governments on all issues other than the partition of Ireland, and is famous for having at one stage spoken for nearly ten hours to outline his disagreements.

Early life

Henderson was born in Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

 and brought up in the Shankill Road area. He was educated at Jersey Street National School and Hampden Street National School, and worked as a housepainter and decorator. He was a strong trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...


Relations with official Unionism

Henderson was a member of the Irish Unionist Party
Ulster Unionist Party
The Ulster Unionist Party – sometimes referred to as the Official Unionist Party or, in a historic sense, simply the Unionist Party – is the more moderate of the two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland...

 and when the Unionists decided to establish the Ulster Unionist Labour Association
Ulster Unionist Labour Association
The Ulster Unionist Labour Association was an association of trade unionists founded by Edward Carson in June 1918, aligned with the Ulster Unionists in Northern Ireland. Members were known as Labour Unionists. 1918 and 1919 were the years of intense class conflict throughout Britain. This period...

 to bolster their support with Protestant workers in 1918, he became a founder member and one of the leading personalities and very popular among the Shankill workers.

In 1920, he offered himself as a potential Unionist candidate for the House of Commons of Northern Ireland
House of Commons of Northern Ireland
The House of Commons of Northern Ireland was the lower house of the Parliament of Northern Ireland created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The upper house in the bicameral parliament was called the Senate. It was abolished with the passing of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act...

 at the first election but was met by a patronising response from the Chairman of the selection meeting who looked down at him (Henderson was significantly below average height) in his ill-fitting and paint-spattered clothes and asked "What kind of a man are you?". Henderson left the meeting before the ballot, knowing he could not win and determined to show the Unionists exactly what kind of a man he was.

Election as an independent

In 1923, Henderson was elected as an Independent Unionist
Independent Unionist
See also Independent .Independent Unionist has been a label sometimes used by candidates in elections in the United Kingdom, indicating a support for Unionism, retaining the unity of the British state....

 to Belfast City Council
Belfast City Council
Belfast City Council is the local authority with responsibility for the city of Belfast, the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland. The Council serves an estimated population of , the largest of any district council in Northern Ireland, while also being the fourth smallest by area...

. He was to retain the seat until his death. At the 1925 election
Northern Ireland general election, 1925
The Northern Ireland general election, 1925 was held on 3 April 1925. It was the second election to the Parliament of Northern Ireland. It saw significant losses for the Ulster Unionist Party, although they maintained their large majority. This was the last election for the Stormont parliament...

, he fought the Belfast North
Belfast North (Northern Ireland Parliament constituency)
Belfast North was a borough constituency of the Parliament of Northern Ireland from 1921 - 1929. It returned four MPs, using the single transferable vote method of proportional representation.-Boundaries:...

 constituency and topped the poll with 10,306 first preference votes, the only candidate to have the electoral quota on the first count. From the 1929 election
Northern Ireland general election, 1929

 he was elected as member for Belfast Shankill
Belfast Shankill (Northern Ireland Parliament constituency)
Belfast Shankill was a constituency of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.-Boundaries:Belfast Shankill was a borough constituency comprising part of northern Belfast...


Henderson distinguished himself at Stormont by becoming almost a one-man opposition to the Unionist government. He loudly spoke up on behalf of the working-class and criticised the government for defending the interests of the rich landowners. He was insistent that he was four-square behind them on the issue of the border and just as opposed to any land concessions to the Irish Free State. This did not prevent the Unionists using the fact that Henderson often voted with the Irish Nationalist members to imply that he agreed with them.

Appropriation Bill speech

The high point of Henderson's Parliamentary career came on May 26, 1936 when he decided to speak on the annual Appropriation Bill, a government measure which applied spending to each department and service. Henderson began speaking in the early afternoon, and after a short interruption for an opposition debate, resumed speaking in the evening. He went through each department listing the policies he disagreed with and attacking government policy, being sustained by glasses of water handed to him by the Northern Ireland Labour Party
Northern Ireland Labour Party
The Northern Ireland Labour Party was an Irish political party which operated from 1924 until 1987.In 1913 the British Labour Party resolved to give the recently formed Irish Labour Party exclusive organising rights in Ireland...

 member in the next seat. By the time he sat down at 3:55 AM on 27 May, he had spoken for almost ten hours. The other members of the House had to stay to the end because the Bill was against its deadline to be passed. This was at that point the longest speech in any British Empire legislature.

During the Second World War

Henderson was a vocal critic of the Northern Ireland government's failure to put in place effective air raid precautions during the Second World War, which led to severe loss of life when Belfast was bombed
Belfast Blitz
The Belfast Blitz was an event that occurred on the night of Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941 during World War II. Two hundred bombers of the German Air Force attacked the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Nearly one thousand people died as a result of the bombing and 1,500 were injured. In terms...

 on the night of 15 April 1941 (although he excluded the Minister of Public Security, John MacDermott from the criticism despite his technical responsibility). In an unconnected incident, he told of an occasion when the Marquess of Londonderry
Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry
Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, KG, MVO, PC, PC , styled Lord Stewart until 1884 and Viscount Castlereagh between 1884 and 1915, was an Anglo-Irish peer and had careers in both Irish and British politics...

 had invited him to a private room in the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast to discuss Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. The Marquess, who was a leading Unionist who had held office in the United Kingdom government, was suspected of having pro-German sympathies.


With Henderson's local support so high, the Unionists did not oppose him in the 1945 election. Likewise, he was left alone in 1949
Northern Ireland general election, 1949
-References:*-See also:*MPs elected in the Northern Ireland general election, 1949...

 when the issue of partition was made a total priority. However Henderson, despite his long years of experience, had now become less effective. At the 1953 election
Northern Ireland general election, 1953

 both the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Unionists challenged him and he was defeated.

Henderson retained his seat on Belfast City Council (of which he had been High Sheriff
High Sheriff
A high sheriff is, or was, a law enforcement officer in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.In England and Wales, the office is unpaid and partly ceremonial, appointed by the Crown through a warrant from the Privy Council. In Cornwall, the High Sheriff is appointed by the Duke of...

 in 1943). Reward for his dedication came with the award of Freeman
Freedom of the City
Freedom of the City is an honour bestowed by some municipalities in Australia, Canada, Ireland, France, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Rhodesia to esteemed members of its community and to organisations to be honoured, often for service to the community;...

of the City of Belfast from 1964.
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