Belfast Telegraph

James Molyneaux: The horrors of Belsen camp that were to haunt him to his dying day

By Ivan Little

Jim Molyneaux witnessed gruesome sights in Belsen which would haunt him until his dying day. He steered his beloved Ulster Unionist Party through its most turbulent times but the farmer's son, who was dubbed Gentleman Jim and the Quiet Man, could never forgive or forget Ian Paisley for calling him a Judas.

The two polar-opposite politicians became the odd couple of Unionism in the mid-80s to jointly spearhead the Ulster Says No campaign against the Anglo Irish Agreement, introduced by Molyneaux's supposed pro-Union friend, Margaret Thatcher.

But their unlikely alliance wasn't destined to last and it didn't even command support from within their parties.

Unionist insiders say many DUP politicians, including Peter Robinson, were angered that they had been sidelined by the new partnership which manifested itself in November 1985 as Paisley and Molyneaux stood side by side - in almost identical grey Crombie overcoats - on the City Hall stage, in front of well over 100,000 protesters.

But while Paisley's 'Never, Never, Never, Never' bellowing has gone into the history books, fewer people remember that the less oratorically-confident Molyneaux invoked the civil rights movement's catchphrase, 'We Shall Not Be Moved'.

But what Paisley said about Molyneaux in the wake of his support for the Downing Street declaration of 1993 wounded him deeply, according to a former political ally who said: "Jim was hurt to the bone, he was absolutely gutted. He and Paisley, who had for so long been rivals for the soul of Unionism, eventually became friends and Jim even visited the Big Man at his home.

"So, when Paisley likened him to Judas Iscariot, Jim, he took it as an extremely personal betrayal. The bridges were never mended. Jim was too nice a man to bite back."

Gentle he may have been but Jim Molyneaux was nobody's fool, according to his friends. He led his previously divided party for a remarkable 16 years, staving off the advances of the DUP on his party's position within Unionism and maintaining his cherished Union against the onslaught of the IRA, while condemning the actions of loyalist paramilitaries with equal fervour.

Terrorism came to his own door, literally. I interviewed him in 1982 after an INLA bomb attack on his home at Killead in County Antrim, where he'd been born 60 years earlier. He was more worried about the impact on his neighbours than on himself.

But that probably wasn't surprising for a stoical, duty-driven man who joined the RAF at the age of 20 to fight in the Second World War, during which he took part in the D-Day landings.

However, what impacted on him even more was the fact that he was among the first British servicemen to enter the liberated Belsen concentration camp in Germany which he compared to the work of the devil, a hell on earth. He went back to Belsen with a BBC documentary crew 13 years ago and, in measured tones which belied the emotion he undoubtedly felt decades earlier, he spoke about the horrors that awaited him and his colleagues.

He said: "The sense of shock hit you like a huge wave and every step you took revealed further horrors. It was the sort of stuff of which nightmares are made."

He talked of how, on an electrified fence, he saw the skeletons of men and women who 'in sheer desperation had decided to put an end to it and deliberately put claw-like fingers on that fencing and electrocuted themselves and, of course, nobody bothered to take them off it."

He added: "Behind them were corpses lying all over the place, just where they had fallen."

On his return to Northern Ireland in 1946, James Henry Molyneaux joined the Orange Order and the Unionist Party and the story is told that he became chairman of a branch of the party almost by accident, after he went to an Orange Hall to fix the heating system and ended up in office.

The quietly-spoken bachelor was elected to Westminster in 1970 for the South Antrim constituency, which he served for 13 years before he represented Lagan Valley from 1983 to 1997. He succeeded the ebullient Fermanagh farmer, Harry West, as Unionist leader in 1979.

However, friends say that Molyneaux (right) was a Tory in Unionist clothing and he repeatedly extolled the virtues of Northern Ireland's full integration within the United Kingdom.

Molyneaux was also a fervent admirer of the former Tory MP, Enoch Powell, and played a pivotal role in bringing him to Northern Ireland to successfully stand for the Unionists in South Down.

Former Secretary of State, Jim Prior, once famously claimed that Molyneaux was so in awe of Powell that he let him operate him with his foot.

He knew the end of his leadership was inevitable and, in 1995, David Trimble replaced Molyneaux who was knighted and became Lord Molyneaux of Killead, the parish of his birth where he continued to sing in his church choir which, apart from him, was all-female.

But he'd also been equally at home with the Westminster lifestyle where he would happily entertain visitors with tea and scones while others offered refreshments with a somewhat stiffer kick.

"He'll be missed," says one ex-Unionist colleague. "He may have had the reputation of being dour and stand-offish but he cared about people. Even his old RUC police bodyguards said he always ensured they had a cup of tea and something to eat while others kept them at a distance."

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