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Tributes are paid to former Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux

Tributes are paid to former Ulster Unionist leader James Molyneaux

TRIBUTES have been paid to former Ulster Unionist Party leader Jim Molyneaux, who has passed away at the age of 94.

After joining the party in 1946, Mr. Molyneaux went on to become one of its longest-serving leaders after taking over the top job from Harry West in 1979.

His time as leader took in some of the worst years of the Troubles as well as some of the most turbulent politically for his party as it faced increasing challenges from the D.U.P. under the then leadership of Ian Paisley.

Mr. Molyneaux had been MP for South Antrim from 1970 until 1983 when he became the representative for Lagan Valley, a seat he held until his retirement in 1997.

He never married, but devoted his life to politics as well as to the loyal orders, including the Orange Order and Royal Black Institution. He held senior positions in the organisations.

During the Second World War, Mr. Molyneaux served in the R.A.F. He was among the first British Servicemen to enter newly liberated Belsen concentration camp in Germany. It was an experience which was to have a profound effect on the young serviceman.

Years later, Mr. Molyneaux returned to Belsen for a BBC documentary. He recalled the horrors he had witnessed: “The sense of shock hit you like a tidal wave. Every step brought further horror. It was the work of the devil”.

Regarded as being quiet and determined, Mr. Molyneaux maintained that his life’s work was to protect Northern Ireland’s position with the U.K. He played a key role in persuading the then Labour Government to give Northern Ireland more MPs during the 1970s.

But when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed in 1985, he campaigned against it, forming a political pact with Dr. Paisley under the UIster Says No banner.

His time as leader came to an end in 1995 when he stepped down a month after surviving a leadership challenge. He was succeeded by David Trimble.

He was Knighted in 1996, before being granted a life peerage the following year, becoming Lord Molyneaux of Killead.

The many tributes were led by current Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt who said: “He brought a stability to the unionist party at a time when it was much needed. Times were fraught, not just in terms of the exceptional level of barbaric terrorism that was being imposed upon the people of Northern Ireland, but also a very difficult political situation.”

Jim Molyneaux was sometimes viewed as being somewhat austere, but in private he could display a warm personality as well as a good sense of humour. He once recalled how a constituent had telephoned him in the middle of the night.

The man told Mr. Molyneaux he had voted for him at the previous election and needed his help. The caller apologised for the early call, but Mr. Molyneaux said not to worry as the problem was obviously so large that it had necessitated him calling so early. “It’s no problem to me”, replied the man, “I work nights as a security guard”.

When asked what he had said to his constituent, Mr. Molyneaux replied, “Well, I don’t think I got his vote at the next election”.

Funeral Private

Lord Molyneaux’s Funeral will be private in keeping with his wishes. View the death notice for Lord Molyneaux on

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