Belfast Telegraph

James Molyneaux: Tributes paid to former UUP leader who has died age 94 - book of condolence

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said he "brought a stability to the unionist party at a time when it was much needed"

Former leader of the Ulster Unionist party James Molyneaux has passed away at the age of 94.

The 94-year-old lead the party through most of the Troubles with a career spanning more than three decades.

He was born in Killead, Co Antrim and joined the party in 1946.

He went on to become one of its longest-serving leaders.

The former Lagan Valley MP joined the Royal Air Force between 1941 and 1946.

He experienced many of the horrors in the Second World War and participated in the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp.

In 1996 he was knighted and granted a life peerage in the 1997 Birthday Honours list where he became Lord Molyneaux of Killead.

Fifty years later at the age of 81, he returned to Belsen with a documentary team.

He passed away at 7.30am on Monday March 9.

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Mr Molyneaux's political career began in County Antrim council. He had went to repair the heating and ended up as chairman of the Diamond branch of the party.

From 1970 to 1983 he was MP for south Antrim and for Lagan Valley from 1983-1997.

In 1979 he succeeded Harry West as UUP leader.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt paid tribute and said the party had lost "one of its greatest".

"He brought a stability to the unionist party at a time when it was much needed," he said.

Mr Nesbitt said: “Lord Molyneaux led the Party during some of Northern Ireland’s most bloody and turbulent years, providing leadership not only to the Ulster Unionist Party during that time, but also to the country.

“He led for 16 years, a remarkable feat, given the Party had no fewer than 4 different leaders in the 16 years prior to him taking over.

" The stability he offered was critical, as was his unbending passion for securing Northern Ireland’s place within the Union. This was particularly key during the aftermath of the Anglo Irish Agreement, a challenge of seismic proportions within Unionism."

Mr Nesbitt paid tribute Lord Molyneaux's experiences at in Bergen Belsen.

He said: “He had a history of serving his country before he took up public office, joining the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.  A venture that would see him take part in the liberation of Belsen Concentration Camp, something which stayed with him forever.

"I believe that experience crystallised the values that guided his political life. He was no showman, but a man of immense guile, playing the game of political chess, ignoring the cheap headlines to focus on strategic outcomes.

“The sight of Lord Molyneaux as Ulster Unionist Party Leader wearing his medals as he laid the wreath on behalf of the Party at the Cenotaph in London every Remembrance Sunday was a powerful image which epitomised the ideals of dignity and service which he embodied.

"On behalf of the Party, I give thanks for a long life, well lived, in dedicated service to the people."

First Minister Peter Robinson paid tribute to Lord Molyneaux who he described as "first and foremost a committed unionist".

The DUP leader said: "Everything he worked for in politics had the preservation and promotion of the Union at its core. Through his service in the RAF in World War Two and twenty seven years as a Member of Parliament he was marked by a quiet determination and diplomacy.

"Jim’s leadership encompassed many difficult years for unionism and his skills were key to ensuring that the Ulster Unionist Party held together when there were competing viewpoints about how to move forward.

"Having worked with him throughout those years I can pay tribute to those skills and to his devotion to Northern Ireland and the Union.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Jim’s family and closest friends at this time as they mourn this sad loss."

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness also expressed his condolences.

He tweeted: "Want to extend my sympathy and condolences to the family of former Ulster Unionist Party Lord Molyneaux who has died."

Alliance Leader David Ford also passed on his sympathy.

Mr Ford said: "I was sorry to learn of the death of Lord Molyneaux. My thoughts and sympathies go out to his family.

“He was a hard working public representative who always endeavoured to address the concerns of his constituents.

“Many will remember his interviews on his experience as one of the first Allied soldiers to enter the liberated Belsen concentration camp at the end of World War Two. His role in the RAF clearly shaped his commitment to public life in Northern Ireland.”

SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan said that Jim Molyneaux was on a personal level a man of "quiet courtesy and civility".

Mr Durkan said: “As a unionist leader Jim Molyneaux was wary of political initiatives and often seemed reluctant about cross-party engagement as well as strongly opposed to structuring British-Irish relationships. These dimensions were evident in his pursuit of the North’s ‘total integration’ as part of the UK.

“This included his antipathy to anything more than council-style administrative devolution, his strident rejection of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, his stated alarm after the IRA ceasefire and his repudiation of the two government’s Framework Document in 1995.

“However, this man of quiet courtesy also made some subtle but significant contributions."

He added: “Jim Molyneaux was no show-boater and tended to be quiet and cautious in his speech.  At a personal level he always showed warmth of courtesy and civility while upholding a sense of privacy.”

The Orange Order has expressed regret at the passing of the former Ulster Unionist leader who was an active member throughout his life.

Grand Master Edward Stevenson said: “Throughout his long and distinguished political career, Lord Molyneaux was always a firm voice and advocate for the Orange Institution.

“Indeed, he assumed high office having served as Imperial Grand Master of the Imperial Orange Council, as well as being a past Deputy County Antrim Grand Master and an honorary Deputy Grand Master. He was also a proud and lifelong member of Ballynadrenta LOL 1059 in Crumlin.

“Lord Molyneaux always epitomized the principles of the Institution and exercised very strong and steady leadership throughout the worst of the IRA’s terrorist campaign.

"There is no doubt that but for his responsible leadership of the unionist community during that period, Northern Ireland could have experienced even greater violence.

“On behalf of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, I would like to offer the deepest condolences of the entire Institution to the Molyneaux family at this sad time.”

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Right Reverend Dr. Michael Barry also paid tribute, “Lord Molyneaux was a dedicated and diligent public servant who represented his constituents in Parliament for nearly 30 years and played a leading role in political life here, and further afield, during a period in our history that thankfully bears no relation to today.

"To his family and friends, I offer my sincere condolences at this time.”

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