McQuade, John (‘Johnny’) (1911–84), dockworker, politician, and soldier, was born 9 August 1911, son of John McQuade, flax rougher, and Annie McQuade (née Baird), in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, where his family lived in a small terraced house in Carnan St. Educated at the local Snugville public elementary school, after the death of his mother he lied about his age and joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at the age of 16, later seeing service in India and the Sudan. In the 1930s he returned to Belfast, where he worked as a labourer in the docks while pursuing a professional boxing career under the name ‘Jack Higgins’. On the outbreak of the second world war he rejoined the army and took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk before being posted to the Far East, where he fought in Burma as a member of the Chindits, a commando-style force operating deep behind Japanese lines. The physical demands of jungle warfare took their toll on McQuade, and he endured frequent bouts of malaria. As a result he faced an honourable discharge on medical grounds but instead recovered to join the Parachute Regiment. He continued to serve until 1946, when he finally left and once again returned to Belfast and his job on the docks.
His involvement in politics began in the 1950s when he became associated with militant loyalist elements in Belfast, alarmed by the apparent threat to Northern Ireland from the IRA's border campaign (1956–62). These elements began to organise themselves to defend protestant areas from possible attack, as similar organisations had done during the sectarian disturbances of the early 1920s. When the danger failed to materialise, the immediate objectives changed to those of protecting the interests of protestant working-class areas and countering the growing ecumenical movement by peaceful means alone. To pursue these goals Ulster Protestant Action (UPA) was formed, with the bulk of its membership coming from the Shankill Road and areas of north Belfast. However, UPA found itself in the difficult position of not wanting to damage the electoral prospects of the unionist party, even though it was highly critical of the party's performance, in case further council and parliamentary seats were lost to the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP), which at this time was emerging as a potential threat. Thus, in the early 1960s leading supporters of the UPA (particularly in the Shankill area), including McQuade, changed tactics and joined the local Unionist Association. By 1964 he had been elected as a unionist councillor on Belfast corporation for the Court ward (1964–72), and in the following year became the unionist MP for the Stormont constituency of Woodvale in Belfast (1965–72). On these occasions his electoral appeal was built very much on the principles of the UPA: namely, to champion the interests of protestant communities in the working-class areas he now represented.
For the unionist party, now under the leadership of Capt. Terence O'Neill (qv), the success of McQuade and a number of other candidates at the 1965 general election was warmly welcomed, as this suggested that it had now seen off the electoral challenge of the NILP. At the same time, however, the ranks of opponents within the parliamentary party to O'Neill's more liberal approach were increased by the election of McQuade, who over the next few years emerged as one of the prime minister's fiercest critics. In addition his hard-line approach frequently led to clashes with nationalist and other MPs representing catholic constituencies. As the situation in Northern Ireland deteriorated at the end of the 1960s, O'Neill's position became increasingly threatened by a backbench revolt of his own MPs, with McQuade closely associated with many of these, most notably in early 1969. This revolt finally forced O'Neill's hand, and he called a general election to seek a fresh mandate. It soon became obvious that the Unionist party as a whole was as equally divided, with local unionist associations divided into pro- and anti-O'Neill factions. Even for McQuade there were problems, and initially he failed to be selected by the local party in the Woodvale constituency; but this result was later overturned, amid claims from his opponents of threats and intimidation. In the subsequent election he was comfortably returned and continued to voice his criticism of the prime minister's strategy of reform and apparent betrayal of the unionist cause. This bitter criticism was maintained and eventually led to his expulsion from the parliamentary party (March 1970), along with a number of others, by O'Neill's successor James Chichester-Clark (qv). McQuade politically was increasingly drawing closer to the militant tone of protestant opinion such as that voiced by the Rev. Ian Paisley (qv), who had now emerged as the figure around which loyalist opposition to the unionist government had gathered. Eventually at the end of 1971 McQuade joined with another unionist dissident, Desmond Boal, MP for Shankill, in formally leaving the unionist party to join Paisley's newly established Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). In protest against the approach of the British government to the situation in Northern Ireland, he then resigned his council and parliamentary seat early in 1972.
After the suspension of Stormont and the introduction of direct rule from Westminster, the authorities in London set out to restore devolved power to Northern Ireland by way of an executive sharing power between nationalists and unionists, alongside formal cooperation between the separate administrations in Belfast and Dublin. This plan was strongly opposed by the DUP, and in the Northern Ireland assembly (established 1973) the party set out to bring down this proposed settlement. McQuade was at the forefront of these efforts, most notably in frequent and sometimes violent protests on the floor of the assembly itself. Eventually the experiment of power-sharing with its ‘Irish dimension’ was brought down by the Ulster Loyalist Workers' strike of May 1974. In the political vacuum that followed, McQuade temporarily parted from the DUP and left politics to return to work as a dock labourer, but he was soon made redundant after a series of job losses and for the next few years was unemployed. Then at the Westminster general election of May 1979 McQuade made a dramatic return when he stood and won for the DUP the constituency of Belfast North. In this role, as in the past, his hard-line approach won him the respect of his unionist constituency but angered many of his political opponents. Just before the 1983 general election he announced that due to his own ill health and that of his wife he was standing down as an MP. After a long illness he died at Forster Green Hospital on 19 November 1984 and was buried from his home in Carnan St., just a few doors away from his old family home. McQuade was survived by a brother, a sister, and his wife Hannah (née Williams); they had no children.