Grant, William (1883–1949), trade unionist and Ulster unionist, was born 6 April 1883 in Belfast, the fourth son of at least seven children (five boys and two girls) of Martin Grant, a linen lapper, and Mary Grant (née Gibson). After being educated at a local national school, he started work as a clerk in the Belfast shipyards, where he was eventually to become chairman of the Belfast District Shipwrights’ Association. It is likely that he was also involved in the training of UVF volunteers around the time of the UVF's formation in 1913, although details of his involvement are not clear. Undoubtedly, his work environment influenced his politics which were staunchly unionist, sectarian (he was also a member of the Orange Order), and working class. In June 1918 Grant was a founding member of the Ulster Unionist Labour Association (UULA), set up with the encouragement of Edward Carson (qv) to counteract nationalist propaganda claiming that the majority of the working class in Ulster supported home rule. Grant was considered one of its few members who spoke with any authority for those who were trade unionists as well as unionists. Monthly meetings of the UULA were relatively innocuous affairs with Grant frequently vanishing before the end of meetings to avoid being pestered by members with grievances. In 1919 he was a member of the committee of striking shipyard and engineering workers in Belfast. However, he was opposed to militant action, and years later explained that he had voted against the strike and had only joined the committee to oppose its socialist members. In 1921 he was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament for North Belfast as a representative of the UULA; he was returned unopposed in 1925, and after changes to constituency boundaries was again elected unopposed for Duncairn in 1929, holding the seat until his death.
Immediately after his election Grant indulged in the extremist rhetoric which was his hallmark. Insisting the new northern state needed law and order before it could be governed, he suggested that ‘If the Sinn Féiners would not come under the law they would have to take steps to expel them from the six counties . . . they would no longer tolerate Sinn Féin and bolshevism in the six counties’. His vehemence in this regard was no doubt influenced by the fact that he had been wounded by IRA sniper fire in July 1921. Speaking in parliament, he boasted that there were no catholics in the special constabulary which was composed ‘entirely of loyal protestant working men’. Grant voted against the government on 26 occasions in the 1925 parliament but he was sure at all times to assert his identity as a protestant and unionist. He did not believe in proportional representation or minority rights and felt local authorities and parliament could function without other parties, proudly informing opposition MPs in 1927 of his complete indifference to opposition. He also thrived on depicting southern Ireland as a bigoted priest-ridden state under the heel of Rome.
As well as serving on various government committees, he was parliamentary secretary to the ministry of labour (1938–41) and minister of public security (1941–3). When Basil Brooke (qv) became prime minister in 1943, Grant was the only other serving minister retained in cabinet; he was appointed minister of labour, possibly to appease working-class protestant dissent. In June 1944 Grant was appointed minister at the newly-founded ministry of health and local government, a recognition of the need for more urgent and co-ordinated action in the field of public health. In August 1944 he admitted to his colleagues that there were over 43,000 ‘totally unfit’ houses in the province. Grant was energetic and successful in this position, ensuring not only that the major British post-war welfare legislation was applied simultaneously to the north, but also launching a strenuous campaign for the elimination of tuberculosis which included the establishment of the Northern Ireland Tuberculosis Authority.
He died 15 August 1949 at his son's home in Dunlambert Drive, Belfast, and was survived by his wife Elizabeth (née Davison), whom he married in 1906, and their two sons and two daughters.