Maginess, (William) Brian (1901–67), politician and judge, was born 10 July 1901 in Hillsborough, Co. Down, son of William George Maginess, a Lisburn solicitor, and Mary Sarah Maginess (née Boyd). Brian (as he was always known) was educated at the Downshire School, Hillsborough; Lisburn Intermediate; and TCD, where he was a scholar, won a senior moderatorship, and graduated LLD in 1922. That year he was called to the bar at King's Inns, and the following year to the bar of Northern Ireland. In 1926 he was appointed junior crown prosecutor of Fermanagh.
Elected to Stormont in 1938 as Ulster Unionist member for the Iveagh division of Co. Down, he represented this constituency until 1964. On the outbreak of the second world war, he left to serve with the Royal Artillery, but the prime minister, John Andrews (qv), secured his release in 1940. He then spent two years as parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture and to the minister of public security, followed by two years as parliamentary secretary to the minister of commerce and production, Basil Brooke (qv). He was discreetly influential in bringing about Andrews's replacement as prime minister with Brooke in 1943, which helped secure his own future in cabinet.
After the war Maginess resumed his legal career and took silk in 1946; however, he soon returned to government, first as minister of labour (1946–9), then briefly as minister of commerce, before becoming minister of home affairs (1949–53). Maginess was the most liberal member of cabinet and thought it the duty of unionism to broaden its appeal to the minority, but his was a largely isolated voice. His views did not help his political career, while the dossier of home affairs brought him into repeated altercations with both nationalists and loyalists. His refusal in July 1950 to ban a catholic march past an Orange hall on a Sunday roused the ire of Orange luminaries, including the young Ian Paisley (qv). The next year it was the turn of the nationalist party to denounce him for the public order act of 1951 which gave the minister of home affairs and the police more powers to ban and reroute marches. In June 1952 the loyalists agitated once again when he used this act to ban Orangemen from marching down the Longstone Road, a nationalist area of Annalong, Co. Down. The ban was rescinded a month later, but the Independent Unionists strongly contested Maginess's seat in the 1953 election and came close to defeating him. Brookeborough moved him to the less sensitive ministry of finance, during which time, in keeping with his interest in Ulster folk tradition, he approved the establishment of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, which was a flagship for improved community relations.
In 1956 he was appointed attorney general, and in November 1959 came the so-called ‘Maginess affair’. At a Young Unionist conference in Portstewart, Co. Londonderry, the chairman of the UUP standing committee, Sir Clarence Graham (1900–66), a liberal like Maginess, suggested that catholics should be allowed to join the Unionist party and even be selected as parliamentary candidates. Maginess supported him with words that soon became notorious: ‘To shed our parochialism is not to deny our inheritance. To broaden our outlook means no weakening of our faith’, and attacked ‘a policy of apartheid’ (Ir. Times, 3 Nov. 1959). In the ensuing uproar Brookeborough distanced himself firmly from his attorney general.
During the 1960s Maginess had the satisfaction of hearing his liberal agenda voiced by the new prime minister, Terence O'Neill (qv); in private letters to his friend, Jack Sayers (qv), editor of the Belfast Telegraph, he expressed his optimism that unionist views were changing. He did not live to see the onset of the ‘Troubles’. In 1964 he retired from politics, having been appointed county court judge for Down the previous year. He died in hospital in Belfast on 16 April 1967, and was survived by his wife, Margaret Seeton Crawford (m. 1954), and by one son.