Tributes have been paid to former Ulster Unionist Party leader James Molyneaux who has died at the age of 94.
The current UUP leader Mike Nesbitt hailed James Molyneaux for bringing stability to his party and country during bloody and turbulent years in Northern Ireland. James Molyneaux led the UUP from 1979 to 1995.
Serving in the RAF during the Second World War, he was also among the first British servicemen to enter the liberated Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1945.
He was knighted in 1996 and became a life peer in 1997, taking the title Mr Molyneaux of Killead. Mr Nesbitt said the UUP had lost “one of its greatest”.
“Mr 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 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 said.
Mr Nesbitt said Mr Molyneaux’s experience in Bergen 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 the cheap headlines to focus on strategic outcomes.
“The sight of Mr 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,” he said.
Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson said Mr 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,” he said.
“Through his service in the RAF in World War Two and 27 years as an MP 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,” he said.
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