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Robert Bradford (Northern Irish politician)

Reverend Robert Jonathan Bradford (8 June 1941 – 14 November 1981) was a Methodist Minister and a Vanguard Unionist and Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament for the Belfast South constituency in Northern Ireland until his assassination by the Provisional Irish Republican Army on 14 November 1981.

Robert Bradford

Robert Bradford.jpg
Member of Parliament
for Belfast South
In office
28 February 1974 – 14 November 1981
Preceded byRafton Pounder
Succeeded byMartin Smyth
Personal details
Robert Jonathan Bradford

(1941-06-08)8 June 1941
Limavady, Northern Ireland
Died14 November 1981(1981-11-14) (aged 40)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Political partyVanguard Progressive Unionist Party
Ulster Unionist Party
Spouse(s)Norah Bradford
ChildrenClaire Bradford



Bradford was born on 8 June 1941 to a Belfast family resident in Limavady, County Londonderry, due to the wartime evacuation. Bradford's father left the family not long after his birth and his mother died so he was raised by foster parents. A talented footballer, Bradford signed for Glenavon F.C. as a teenager and his displays soon attracted the attentions of the English side Sheffield Wednesday F.C., who invited him to a trial. However, Bradford was not signed by the club and returned to Northern Ireland to resume his career with the then Belfast-based club Distillery.


Bradford gave up football in 1964, after deciding to train to become a Methodist minister. After spending the rest of the 1960s attached to congregations in East Belfast and Fivemiletown, Bradford was fully ordained in 1970 and given his own parish in the Suffolk area of southwest Belfast. Bradford later resigned from the Methodist ministry in the late 1970s after feeling that he and his fellow ministers were on divergent paths both politically and ecumenically.[why?] (Norah Bradford, A Sword Bathed in Heaven 1984:98) and would spend the final years of his life without a church. During these years he came to spend time in the 'Bible belt' of the United States and became associated with American Evangelicalism. Nevertheless, Bradford claimed to always remain at heart a Methodist and also rejected suggestions that he was to join Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church (which he never did).[citation needed]

Political careerEdit

Bradford first became involved with unionism in 1971 when he joined the Orange Order. From here he became more involved in the political side of the movement and stood as a candidate for the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party in the 1973 Northern Ireland Assembly election in South Antrim, although he was not elected. Bradford was first elected as Member of Parliament for South Belfast in the February 1974 British general election, this time under the banner of the United Ulster Unionist Council (an alliance between the Vanguard, the Democratic Unionist Party and the anti-Brian Faulkner section of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) under Harry West), defeating the sitting MP Rafton Pounder, a pro-Faulkner Ulster Unionist. His campaign had been openly supported by the far-right National Front, and at a National Front rally September 1974, Martin Webster read out a letter of solidarity from Bradford.[1]

Bradford greatly increased his majority in the October election, after Pounder dropped out, and largely maintained this increased majority in 1979. Between 1974 and 1978 he sat for the Vanguard Party until in February 1978 he joined the UUP (then often called the Official Unionist Party), along with Vanguard leader William Craig and most of the membership. He was re-elected in 1979 for the UUP.

He was described as a religious and political hardliner, identifying with British Israelism. In one of his speeches he said the causes of the problems in Northern Ireland were down to the Roman Catholic Church, Marxism, and ecumenical confusion.[2]


A mural dedicated to Bradford, Oak Street off Belfast's Donegall Pass

Bradford was shot dead by the IRA on 14 November 1981 in a community centre in Finaghy, Belfast, while hosting a political surgery. Kenneth Campbell, the 29-year-old Protestant caretaker in the centre, was also murdered in the attack.

Secretary of State Jim Prior was verbally abused and jostled by a group of angry loyalists outside the church at his funeral and hissed at by members of the congregation. Ian Paisley also protested against his attendance.[3]

Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald made an expression of sympathy in Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament of the Republic of Ireland) stating:[4]

The IRA described him as "one of the key people responsible for winding up the loyalist paramilitary sectarian machine". A number of Catholics were killed by loyalists in retaliation.[3]

His seat was won by Martin Smyth, also of the UUP, in a by-election in 1982. A book about Bradford's life, A sword bathed in heaven: The life, faith, and cruel death of the Rev. Robert Bradford B. Th. M.P. (1984), was written by his widow, Norah. It dealt largely with his path to Methodism, although also examined his political career and assassination.


  • Bradford, Norah. A sword bathed in heaven: The life, faith, and cruel death of the Rev. Robert Bradford B. Th. M.P. (Pickering paperbacks; 1984). Pickering and Inglis; ISBN 0720805805/ISBN 978-0720805802


  1. ^ Nigel Fielding, The National Front, p. 182, Taylor & Francis, 1981; ISBN 0-7100-0559-8
  2. ^ Lost Lives David McKittrick et al pg.887 ISBN 978-1-84018-504-1
  3. ^ a b Lost Lives David McKittrick et al pg.886 ISBN 978-1-84018-504-1
  4. ^ Dáil Éireann Parliamentary Debates - Volume 330 Archived 7 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine - 17 November 1981

External linksEdit