James Molyneaux: Tributes pour in for unsung hero of the peace process
Tributes from across the political spectrum have been paid to former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Molyneaux, who has died, aged 94.
Though the veteran MP had been absent from mainstream politics for several years, his influence and characteristic quiet but determined manner were remarked on by unionists, nationalists and others.
Assembly parties joined forces to pay their respects to the man who was among the first soldiers to enter and liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in World War Two - an experience which stayed with him throughout his life.
The late 'Jim' Molyneaux was MP for both South Antrim, between 1970 and 1983, and Lagan Valley, from 1983 to 1997 and led the UUP for 16 years, following a turbulent period which had seen four leaders - Terence O'Neill, James Chichester-Clark, Brian Faulkner and Harry West - over 16 years.
The accolades were led by current leader, Mike Nesbitt, who said the party had "lost one of its greatest" who had brought much-needed stability at a time when "Northern Ireland needed calm, assured leadership in the face of the ongoing terrorist campaign, and, in 1985, the political threat that was the Anglo-Irish Agreement, a challenge of seismic proportions".
"He was a towering figure, right through some of the most difficult days that Northern Ireland has ever seen," he said.
First Minister and DUP leader, Peter Robinson, 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 27 years as a Member of Parliament, he was marked by a quiet determination and diplomacy."
Former prime minister, Sir John Major, said: "Jim Molyneaux was one of the unsung heroes of the Irish peace process.
"During its early stages in the 1990s, I found his private assessments of what could be achieved invaluable. His pragmatism and willingness to accept moves towards peace was vital to progress.
"I liked him, admired him and, at this time of great sadness for his family, they should take comfort from the fact that Jim will forever hold an honoured place in Irish folklore, not least for the role he played in bringing peace to Northern Ireland."
Non-unionist tributes included one from Dublin Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan, who said: "He was part of a generation that fully appreciated the significance of the peaceful society which Northern Ireland is today."
Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney said it had been a "long and fulfilling life, both politically and personally, having led the Ulster Unionist Party for almost two decades."
Former SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, said: "It was particularly striking that Jim Molyneaux and John Hume met together to produce a working basis for the 1992 Mayhew Talks. In the closer working contact of those days, he also quietly shared some of his personal insights and experiences, including recollections from the end of World War II."
Alliance leader, David Ford, said: "I think he will also be remembered locally by how he served his constituents. Even in latter years, after he had retired, he would have been out and about."
TUV leader, Jim Allister, said: "He was a giant on our political scene who moved through it in that quiet, unassuming way that characterised him."
But the tributes also extended beyond politics, to include family and the loyal institutions. His sister in- law, Agnes Molyneaux, widow of Lord Jim's brother, William, said: "Jim always put the needs of the party and his constituents first… in his time in the House of Lords he was almost ever-present until he retired.
"It was a tiring life, but he loved the cut-and-thrust of the political scene. Away from politics, the parish of Killead was never out of his thoughts. He had a wonderful sense of humour too. You never heard him grumbling and he always had a story to tell."
Lord Molyneaux was the Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution from 1971 to 1998 and his current successor, Millar Farr, said: "He led the Institution for 27 years and his commitment to its work throughout all that time was a wonderful example to all the members."
Current UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said Lord Molyneaux's experience at Belsen stayed with him for the rest of his life. "I believe that experience crystallised the values that guided his political life," he said. "He was no showman, but a man of immense guile, playing the game of political chess, ignoring cheap headlines to focus on strategic outcomes."