Death of James Molyneaux: Foyle MP pays tribute to former Unionist leader

James Molyneaux, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) during a press conference, Oct 1981
James Molyneaux, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) during a press conference, Oct 1981
  • Lord Molyneaux, former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has died aged 93
  • He led the UUP at the time of the Anglo Irish Agreement 30 years ago in 1985
  • Tributes have been paid by both nationalist and unionist politicians

SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan has said that whilst Jim Molyneaux was often wary of political initiatives, cross-party engagement and developing British-Irish relationships, he was on a personal level a man of ‘quiet courtesy and civility’.

Speaking after the death of the former UUP leader, Mr Durkan said: “As a unionist leader Jim Molyneaux was wary of political initiatives and often seemed reluctant about cross-party engagement as well as strongly opposed to structuring British-Irish relationships. These dimensions were evident in his pursuit of the North’s ‘total integration’ as part of the UK.

“This included his antipathy to anything more than council-style administrative devolution, his strident rejection of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, his stated alarm after the IRA ceasefire and his repudiation of the two government’s Framework Document in 1995.

“However, this man of quiet courtesy also made some subtle but significant contributions. While the Brooke and Mayhew Talks did not produce agreements they did build layers of understanding not just ending the anti-Talks stance of unionism after the Anglo-Irish Agreement but also embracing the ‘Three Strands’ agenda as the basis for future negotiations.

“Many of us were wary (particularly after the experience of the 1991 Brooke Talks) that Jim Molyneaux’s reluctant strategy in those talks was to string out Strand 1 and avoid Strands 2 and 3.

“However, it was particularly striking that Jim Molyneaux and John Hume met together to produce a working basis for the 1992 Mayhew Talks, moving from just Strand 1 in Parliament Buildings to Strand 2 in Dublin Castle and Strand 3 in London.

Mark Durkan.

Mark Durkan.

“Indeed, I recall his personal impatience when he took some time to indicate whether they would then engage in those Dublin and London sessions as agreed by himself and John Hume.

“In the closer working contact of those days we saw more of his impish dry sense of humour that his party colleagues spoke of.

“He also quietly shared during waiting around time some of his personal insights and experiences – including recollections from the end of World War II – which helped to colour in the hinterland of this apparently grey man.

“Jim Molyneaux was no show-boater and tended to be quiet and cautious in his speech. At a personal level he always showed a warmth of courtesy and civility while upholding a sense of privacy.”