McLaughlin, (Florence) Patricia (Alice) (1916–97), politician and community activist, was born 23 June 1916 at Downpatrick, Co. Down, the only daughter of Canon Frederick Basil Aldwell , rector of St George's Church, Belfast, and his wife (named on the birth certificate as E. N. Moloney). She was educated at Ashleigh House, Belfast, and, following in her father's footsteps, entered TCD in 1934. In 1937 she married Henry W. McLaughlin, a director of the building and civil engineering empire McLaughlin & Harvey Ltd, and returned to live in Co. Down without graduating.
An avid supporter of the Ulster Unionist Party since her school days, McLaughlin was appointed to the chair of the Unionist Society in 1953. She also held the positions of secretary and treasurer in the Mid-Down Unionist Women's Association and in 1959 was elected to the executive committee of the Ulster Women's Unionist Council. In 1955 she was selected by St George's Unionist Association to contest the West Belfast seat at Westminster. The seat had been won in 1951 by Republican Labour candidate Jack Beattie (qv) in a straight fight with an Ulster Unionist candidate, but in 1955 a Sinn Féin candidate also stood and, in one of the great surprises of the election, McLaughlin was returned with a spectacular majority of 18,141, the first woman MP to be elected in Northern Ireland. Throughout the campaign, she held a Bible in her hand and boasted that she only ever wore Ulster linen and Ulster-manufactured nylons and shoes.
As well as promoting the needs of the Ulster linen industry, McLaughlin raised at Westminster issues which concerned housewives. In November 1955, for example, she opposed a proposed increase in the purchase tax on kitchenware. During the 1959 general election campaign, McLaughlin completed more than 5,000 calls in West Belfast by bicycle and earned the name ‘Mrs Dynamite’. On her reelection to Westminster she entered into an unusual alliance with Labour MP Barbara Castle, and campaigned to have turnstiles removed from public lavatories. She later endeavoured to change the law on the sale of fireworks, and raised awareness about the dangers of inflammable clothing. For her work in the fields of home safety and consumer protection she was awarded an OBE in 1975.
During her career at Westminster McLaughlin was also noted for a number of curious gestures. In an attempt to draw attention to unemployment in Northern Ireland, for example, she once brandished a red glove in the chamber and declared that ‘this is the red hand of Ulster’ (Times, 21 Jan. 1997). In 1961 she also demanded the right to speak on an amendment to a finance bill from the bar of the house so that she would not be on one side of the house or the other. When told by the speaker that this was impossible, she promptly returned to her usual seat. As might be expected, she was not afraid to champion unconventional causes: in 1962, as secretary to the new Foundation for Marriage Education, she stressed the need for family planning; from the 1970s onward she took up the cause of European union and was a delegate to the Western European Union; she also travelled to the Middle East, where she engaged in talks with both Jordanian and Israeli representatives.
In November 1953 McLaughlin was chosen to move the loyal address to the Queen's Speech, and in 1963 she was chosen to second the address; on that occasion Sir Alec Douglas-Home, newly prime minister, called her ‘a tireless advocate of the claims of Northern Ireland’. However, the final stage of her parliamentary career was clouded by a temporary directorship of a firm, Seenozip Industries, which manufactured ‘invisible’ zips. It was revealed that the company had defrauded the NI Ministry of Commerce of £30,000, and as a result two men were jailed. Although McLaughlin had resigned her directorship when she learned of the fraud, she was criticised by an NI watchdog committee in October 1964 for not revealing that she had been given free shares in the company.
Having secured a unanimous vote of confidence from the West Belfast Unionist Association, McLaughlin was reselected in 1964 but decided not to contest the general election because of ill-health. In 1970 she made an attempt to return to the commons when she stood as the conservative candidate for Central Wandsworth, but in spite of the scale of the Conservative victory under Edward Heath she failed to secure this marginal seat.
Outside politics she worked ceaselessly for voluntary and consumer associations. She was the first general secretary of the Foundation for Marriage Guidance, a member of the Housewives’ Trust, and a member of the BBC NI advisory council. From 1962 to 1985 she was a vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and from 1973 to 1975 she chaired the steering group on food freshness. She was a founder member of the women's Orange lodge at Westminster.
McLaughlin retired to Dower House nursing home in Worthy, Winchester, and died there on 7 January 1997. Her husband and one of her daughters, Sandy Tait, predeceased her. She was survived by her other daughter, Anne Faithfull (resident in Australia), and a son, Bill McLaughlin.