Porter, Norman (1919–91), politician, was born 12 February 1919 at Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, the only child of Howard George Porter, insurance broker, and Gertrude Porter (née Smith), tailoress. He was educated at Harding Memorial School, Belfast, and subsequently trained as an engineer. In the late 1940s Porter became full-time secretary of the NI branch of the National Union of Protestants. While the organisation was set up to protest against what was perceived as a rising tide of ritualism within the Church of England, the NI branch concentrated on a more general defence of the protestant religion and culture, and drew support from evangelicals of all protestant denominations. In 1950, for example, Ian Paisley (qv) and Porter lambasted Belfast corporation, and in particular its chairman, Senator Joseph Cunningham (qv), for permitting advertisements for alcoholic drinks on its buses and trams. As county grand master of the Orange Institution, Cunningham summoned them before a stormy meeting of the county Grand Lodge, where they only narrowly avoided being expelled.
Although primarily concerned with religious affairs, Porter was drawn into the political sphere during the controversy surrounding the 1947 education act. Opposition to the act focused on the increase in the grant to voluntary (mainly catholic) schools and on the religious instruction syllabus for grammar schools, which allegedly impugned the authority of the Holy Scriptures. Having been approached by a number of conservative clergymen in advance of the February 1949 election, Porter reluctantly agreed to stand against the minister of education, Sam Hall-Thompson (qv), in Clifton to protest against amendments to the act. He withdrew at the last minute, however, when a non-unionist candidate entered the race, stating that ‘there is only one course left to sensible loyalists and that is to put domestic issues to one side and focus on the constitution’ (News Letter, 1 Feb. 1949, p. 5). Together with Paisley, he focused his attention on the successful return of an independent unionist, Thomas L. Cole (1877–1961), in Belfast (Dock).
In October 1953, however, Porter stood for Clifton and defeated Hall-Thompson. Although not officially a member, he was the only MP to be associated with the Ulster Orange and Protestant Committee, an organisation set up to protest at the imposition of a number of restrictions on Orange parades in the summer of 1953. In a series of public addresses he claimed that the government had been following a line of ‘appeasement’ since the introduction of the education act, and called for the resignation of both the prime minister, Lord Brookeborough (qv), and the minister of home affairs, William Maginess (qv). Defending this line in parliament in October 1954 he claimed that ‘I still believe in a protestant parliament for a protestant people . . . if to say that means that one is to be described as a bigot I am proud to carry that label’ (Hansard NI (commons), xxxviii, 2812 (19 Oct. 1954)).
In the run-up to the March 1958 election, Porter boasted that in the last four and a half years at Stormont he had the highest attendance record of any MP, and claimed that recent IRA activity was the result of thirty years of appeasement by the unionist party. He was defeated by the official unionist candidate, Robert (Robin) Kinahan, (qv) however, by a mere forty-five votes and was again outpolled in a by-election for the seat in May 1958 following Kinahan's resignation.
Although he had been closely connected with Ian Paisley in the 1940s and 1950s (Paisley had lodged with Porter's parents as a student), he split with him in 1963 and formed the Evangelical Protestant Society. While it is unclear why Porter broke ranks with Paisley, it has been speculated that his refusal to become a minister in the Free Presbyterian Church contributed to their estrangement. It has also been suggested that Porter disagreed with Paisley's increasing denunciation of the presbyterian church and that he harboured reservations about Paisley's authoritarian personality. While he strongly resisted the ecumenical movement in the 1960s, claiming that ‘Romanism is still public enemy number one’, he also stated that ‘we don't need and we don't want sensationalism nor hysterical crowds who blindly follow a man’ (Rome's harvest). In a final electoral contest in February 1969, he mounted an unsuccessful challenge to an O'Neillite unionist, William Fitzsimmons (qv), in Belfast (Duncairn), and the following year he emigrated with his family to Australia. He returned to NI in 1982 and died 12 March 1991 from a heart attack at Portstewart.
He married (1942) Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Hamilton and his wife, Mary Nelson; they had two sons and two daughters. His son Norman (b. 14 July 1952) returned to Belfast in 1994 and joined the Ulster Unionist party. Frustrated by ‘stilted political thinking’ within unionism, however, he broke ranks with the party and attempted to define a new ‘civic unionism’ in his 1996 publication Rethinking unionism: an alternative vision for Northern Ireland, which was joint winner of the Christopher Ewart-Biggs memorial prize. He is also the author of The republican ideal: current perspectives (1998).