Andrews, John Miller (1871–1956), prime minister of Northern Ireland, was born 17 July 1871 in Comber, Co. Down, eldest of four sons and one daughter of Thomas Andrews, miller, and Eliza Andrews of Ardara, Comber, daughter of James Alexander Pirrie of Belfast, and sister of Viscount Pirrie (qv), shipbuilder, of Harland & Wolff. He was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and completed an apprenticeship at a Carrickfergus flax-spinning firm. His early career was spent in running the family mill in Comber, and he took little active part in political life until 1912, when he was a member of the organising committee for Ulster Day, and of the provisional government. In 1917 he was associated with the Ulster Unionist delegation to the Irish Convention, and subsequently assisted Edward Carson (qv) to organise the Ulster Unionist Labour Association, a political forum for working-class unionists.
In June 1921 Andrews was elected to the new parliament of Northern Ireland as a member for Co. Down, and received the Labour portfolio in Sir James Craig's (qv) first cabinet. This post involved responsibility for unemployment benefit, health insurance, and the maintenance of good industrial relations. It was not without significance in the wider political scene: in mid 1922 Andrews was given the task of implementing the relief works agreed as a result of peace talks between Craig and Michael Collins (qv). Given the political tensions of the period, the ‘Craig–Collins pact’ had few concrete results, and the relative success of the relief-works committee owed much to Andrews's tact and patience.
As the decade progressed, his tenacity was tested even further. The postwar depression did not deal kindly with Northern Ireland, and unemployment spiralled. The anticipated financial benisons of the 1920 government of Ireland act did not materialise, and the local unemployment fund actually began with a deficit, which accelerated at the rate of £100,000 a month. The local financial mandarins were anxious to bring the situation under control by reducing benefit below the levels paid in other parts of the United Kingdom. Such a policy was anathema to Andrews, who insisted that all British citizens should be entitled to the same welfare conditions. This policy of parity was the cornerstone of Andrews's political philosophy, based on both compassion and electoral expediency. He regarded Westminster as ultimately responsible for the province's upkeep, and fought hard to have this enshrined in legislation. The first step towards this came in 1926 with the unemployment reinsurance act, a limited measure which provided for some reduction in the province's debt. This legislation was subsequently amended over the following decade in Northern Ireland's favour. Throughout his sixteen-year tenure at the ministry of labour, Andrews defended a number of parity issues, overcoming the opposition of both the treasury and fellow cabinet ministers. In the late 1920s he campaigned for the introduction of health insurance on British lines, and in the early 1930s he successfully fought for the extension of unemployment insurance to agricultural workers.
In 1937 Andrews succeeded H. M. Pollock (qv) as minister of finance. As such, he was effectively Craig's deputy and frequently presided at cabinet meetings. Andrews represented Northern Ireland at the 1938 Anglo–Irish negotiations, and presented a strong case to Neville Chamberlain's government. Much of his work was undermined by Craig, who arrived at a late stage in the talks and reached a private deal with the British premier. Andrews saw very clearly that his prime minister was no longer capable of governing effectively, but loyally refused to press for his resignation. The Stormont administration staggered from crisis to crisis, and the advent of war in 1939 only added to the strain. Andrews was under renewed pressure from the treasury to pare local spending still further, although his cabinet colleagues did not regard this obligation particularly seriously. Craig increasingly bypassed the cabinet system of government and acted as something of a dictator, albeit a rather incompetent one. He shrugged off all criticism and remained in office until his death in November 1940.
As deputy prime minister Andrews was the most obvious successor and was duly appointed by the governor. He had little real understanding of the military situation and his primary concern was with the government's political situation rather than the war effort. The elderly administration's inefficiency was exposed in a series of crises, including the Belfast air raids, the failure to introduce conscription, and a long-running battle with Belfast corporation, leading to the loss of two safe unionist seats in by-elections. Whitehall was very concerned about Andrews's failure to prevent a series of extensive strikes in the aircraft industry, which earned him a personal rebuke from Churchill. The treasury mandarins were even more incensed at a speech in which, without consulting them, Andrews announced an ambitious postwar spending plan for the province.
Matters came to a head early in 1943, when a group of backbenchers and junior ministers challenged the prime minister's leadership. Instead of attempting to address the critics' questions, Andrews tried to drum up support in the unionist party outside parliament. However, the rebels prevailed and by 28 April they had been joined by a cabinet minister, Sir Basil Brooke (qv), whose resignation effectively torpedoed Andrews's hopes of staying in office.
At the age of 72, Andrews started life as a backbencher, sitting as MP for Mid Down until 1954. He was appointed a Companion of Honour by George VI and was made a freeman of Londonderry. Andrews also achieved office in the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and the Imperial Orange Council. He retired from public life in 1954, and died on 8 August 1956, the last surviving member of the original 1921 cabinet. He married (1902) Jessie (d. 1950), eldest daughter of Joseph Ormrod, stockbroker, of Bolton; they had a son and two daughters. His brother James (Sir James Andrews (qv), lord chief justice of Northern Ireland 1937–51) married Jane, a sister of Jessie. Another brother was Thomas Andrews (qv), chief designer of the Titanic. There is no single archive of Andrews papers, but a number of collections are held at PRONI.
Andrews is something of a neglected figure in the historiography of Northern Ireland, mentioned in passing as a rather undistinguished prime minister. However, he was an outstanding minister of labour who earned respect across the political divide for his even-handed stance on social-security issues; and on at least one occasion he intervened to ensure that a catholic was promoted to a senior civil-service position. Andrews was perhaps the archetypal Stormont politician: with a keen understanding of local needs, but lacking the ability – crucial in wartime – to see beyond them.