UUP has lost one of its greatest states present leader Nesbitt
TRIBUTES have been paid to former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Lord Molyneaux who has died at the age of 94.
The current leader Mike Nesbitt hailed James Molyneaux for bringing stability to his party and country during bloody and turbulent years in Northern Ireland. Mr Molyneaux led the party from 1979 to 1995.
Mr Nesbitt said the UUP 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,” 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 secur- ing 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 said Lord Molyneaux’s experience in Bergen Belsen concentration camp 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.”
Born: August 27 1920 Died: March 9 2015
THE former Ulster Unionist Party leader Lord Molyneaux of Killead, who has died at the age of 94, led the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) for 16 years and is regarded as a man who brought stability to his party and Northern Ireland politics.
Born James Molyneaux, a farmer’s son, in County Antrim on August 27, 1920, he served with the RAF in the Second World War, where he was among the first British servicemen to enter the liberated Bergen Belsen concentration camp in 1945.
He also took part in the D-Day landings of 1944.
Mr Molyneaux was a member of Protestant Orange Order and an Anglican, but he had briefly attended a Catholic school as a child.
During his political career, in which Mr Molyneaux led the party from 1979 to 1995, he was regarded as a member of the integrationist tendency within the Ulster Unionism movement.
This favoured direct rule from London, with some extension of local government powers, as opposed to a revived Northern Ireland parliament or assembly.
Mr Molyneaux, who never married, was seen in political circles as a cold and secretive man who did not always make his intentions clear. However, he was a natural leader of a movement that contained a wide range of different views on the future of Northern Ireland.
He signed up to the Ulster Unionists almost by accident, after he came across a party meeting when he was helping a friend repair a heating system.
In 1970, Mr Molyneaux stood and won South Antrim for the Ulster Unionist Party, becoming the party’s leader at Westminster four years later.
He was the party’s representative for the area in the failed Northern Ireland Assembly between 1982 and 1986 and became a Privy Councillor in 1982.
In 1983, boundary changes saw his seat become Lagan Valley.
Two years later he resigned it along with his Ulster Unionist Commons colleagues in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement. He was re-elected at the subsequent by-election.
He was heavily influenced by former Tory minister Enoch Powell.
Opponents within the Ulster Unionists said he deferred far too much to the Conservatives, but his supporters suggested this ensured party unity in a divided group.
He held the Ulster Unionists together under his leadership and struck up a partnership with the Reverend Ian Paisley against the Anglo-Irish Agreement and Sinn Fein’s arrival as a political force in elections.
He became a peer in 1997, the year he stood down as MP. Two years earlier he had been replaced by David Trimble. He had been knighted in 1996.
In retirement, Mr Molyneaux was critical of Mr Trimble and was a bitter opponent of the Good Friday Agreement.
In 2003, Mr Molyneaux supported half the Ulster Unionist MPs when they resigned the party whip in protest against the leadership of Trimble and the continuing support for the agreement.
He caused controversy at the 2005 General Election when he publicly backed Democratic Unionist Party candidate Jimmy Spratt over the Ulster Unionist Party candidate Michael McGimpsey in South Belfast.
However, his wartime experiences haunted Mr Molyneaux for the rest of his life.
The young airman had supported the British 2nd Army’s relief efforts at the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany on April 16, 1945.
“The first shock was the barbed wire electric fence,” the former Ulster Unionist leader said in an interview 10 years ago.
“This fence was about eight to 10 feet back from the roadway and there was a hedge in between.
“It was electrified to keep people inside – standard practice for concentration camps.
“The sight was absolutely dreadful because there in front of us were hundreds of poor skeletons of the deceased clinging on to the fence.
“We later found out they had deliberately thrown themselves up against it, they were so far gone.
“They decided to put an end to it themselves and grabbed the electrified fence, which killed them immediately.”
The camp had been liberated the previous day by British soldiers.
Such was the scale of the humanitarian disaster facing them that orders were issued for all available nearby service personnel to join the relief effort.
“We were stopped by military police at the entrance and were handed a little roll of adhesive tape,” he told the Belfast News Letter in January 2005.
“The guard asked us to use the tape to neutralise the horn of our vehicle and not to sound it because, he told us, many of the people were in such a state that any noise would kill them.”
Bergen-Belsen was not officially an extermination camp, unlike Auschwitz, but while there were no gas chambers or other apparatus of genocide, it was still a death camp in all but name.
In the three months prior to liberation, an estimated 600 died every day due to disease and malnutrition.
When the British Army arrived, 10,000 corpses lay unburied. Around 40,000 inmates were still alive, but 13,000 of those would die in the days after liberation.
“It was simply dreadful,” said Lord Molyneaux. “The huts were crowded with about four times the amount of people they were built for.
“Just before liberation the reasonably fit prisoners had been compelled by the SS to take out the dead bodies which had been there for days and wheel them away on hand carts and put them into a pit
“But there were still piles there when we arrived.”
He added: “It’s one thing seeing battlefield casualties – it’s another thing witnessing human beings who have been starved and tortured to death.”
Anne Frank and her sister Margot were among the thousands who died in Bergen-Belsen.
LORD MOLYNEAUX: Led party from 1979 to 1995.