Tributes paid to former South Antrim MP Jim Molyneaux

Lord Molyneaux pictured on his 90th birthday. 'Pic by Brian Little
Lord Molyneaux pictured on his 90th birthday. 'Pic by Brian Little

Tributes have been paid to former Ulster Unionist Party leader Jim Molyneaux, who passed away on Monday, March 9 at the age of 94.

Describing Lord Molyneaux as “one of Unionism’s greatest leaders”, former South Antrim MP David Burnside commented: “Jim Molyneaux was a loyal Ulsterman who served his country with honour in war time and in peace.

“Jim was never a rabble rousing politician. He thought carefully, spoke quietly but was a massive stabilising influence to Unionism throughout the troubles when he united many factions who were tearing Unionism apart.”

Lord Molyneaux served as South Antrim MP from 1970 - 1983 and later Lagan Valley MP from 1983 - 1997. He was leader of the UUP from 1979 - 1995.

“He was first and foremost a Westminster parliamentarian who believed in the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament and many of his warnings about Europe and unstructured devolution are relevant today,” Mr Burnside continued.

“He was immensely popular on the ground in South Antrim, not only around his home in Crumlin - the greatest vote winner in South Antrim’s history because of his honesty, integrity and hard work for everyone.

“He treated everyone the same which drew support from the grass roots of Unionism especially within the Loyal Orders.

“All those of us who were elected in South Antrim after him owe much to the privilege of knowing Jim Molyneaux and receiving his advice and sound counsel. South Antrim and Ulster have lost one of its most loyal sons.”

Current UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the party had “lost one of its greatest.”

“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,” Mr Nesbitt said.

“He led for 16 years, a remarkable feat, given the party had no fewer than four 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.

“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.”

UUP chairman Lord Empey said that Lord Molyneaux had been “a true son of Ulster and a gentleman.”

“Affectionately known to his senior colleagues as ‘the wee man’, Jim Molyneaux was never one to be carried away by the high offices he held over the years.

“Whether as a long-serving Member of Parliament, as party leader or as a member of the House of Lords, Jim was always a no frills politician,” he said.

South Antrim MLA and general election candidate, Danny Kinahan added: “It was with great regret that I learned early on Monday morning of the passing Jim Molyneux.

“Whilst his failing health in recent years prevented him from attending party and constituency functions, we remember him as a staunch ally and indomitable force.

“Jim cared deeply for the people of South Antrim and cherished his Northern Ireland heritage.

“As a direct contemporary of my late father, I looked to him to provide the example that only men of their generation and experience could offer. When I asked him for advice before making the decision to stand as a candidate for the Northern Ireland Assembly he simply told me to be true to myself, and my values. I have always aspired to the highest of these ideals and attribute much of my political education to this most principled politician.

“Few in modern politics could possibly hope to emulate his 27 years as a member of parliament with 16 years as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. This formidable record reflects the affection and regard that he enjoyed within the party and beyond.”

Paying his own personal tribute to Lord Molyneaux, First Minister Peter Robinson commented: “Jim Molyneaux was first and foremost a committed unionist.

“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.

“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.”