James Molyneaux

Unionist politician and Orange Grand Master. Molyneaux was elected to the Westminster House of Commons for the Ulster Unionist Party in Antrim South. In contrast to his overall image as a hardliner, Molyneaux’s period as Westminster leader saw the party begin to distance itself from the Conservative Party, evidenced mainly by a less hostile attitude to the Labour Party.

James Henry ‘Jim’ Molyneaux was born on August 28, 1920. He served as an aircraftman in the Royal Air Force during the second world war and witnessed Belsen concentration camp, Germany, shortly after its liberation. He was to remain ‘always conscious of it.’

Following the war, Molyneaux returned to civilian life working as a farmer and businessman until 1970. He had joined the Ulster Unionist Party within three months of being demobbed in 1946, and in 1970 he was elected to the Westminster House of Commons for the UUP in Antrim South. Molyneaux represented this seat until 1983 when he moved to the Lagan Valley constituency. He stood down in 1997.

Always a hardliner within the Unionist Party, Molyneaux opposed the 1973 Sunningdale agreement and the subsequent power-sharing Executive. When the party entered the Executive, he voiced his opposition by standing for leader, losing out to Harry West. Nevertheless, he consolidated a base within the UUP’s loose structures by holding the post of leader of the Westminster MPs from 1974 to 1979.

In contrast to his overall image as a hardliner, Molyneaux’s period as Westminster leader saw the party begin to distance itself from the Conservative Party, evidenced mainly by a less hostile attitude to the Labour Party.{PAGE BREAK}

The 1970s saw the collapse of the Executive, then the failure of the Constitutional Convention. By 1979, Molyneaux’s opposition to West’s leadership resulted in him being appointed party leader. His style of leadership was generally regarded as being cold, aloof, and distant from the membership. He was contrasted unfavourably with Ian Paisley who was well known for loud dramatic speeches, something Molyneaux avoided.

Under his leadership, the unionists campaigned vigorously against the Anglo-Irish agreement. There followed years in which the party became increasingly marginalised from the centre of political developments. This led to increased discontent with Molyneaux’s ‘gentlemanly approach’, highlighted by the 1995 leadership contest. Lee Reynolds, a stalking horse candidate with no chance, stood and got 15% of the vote against Molyneaux. Molyneaux was still able to claim victory, but in reality his position was fatally damaged. He resigned from the post within five months.

Having left the leadership of the party, Molyneaux played the role of elder statesmen, continuing to oppose the operation of the Belfast agreement and the Executive, and acting as an advisor to unionist MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside.

On leaving the centre of party politics, Molyneaux also stood down from his positions within the loyal orders. He had been an Imperial Grand Master in the Orange Order and was the Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Preceptory, the most senior of the orders, for 27 years. Ennobled as Lord Molyneaux of Killead, he now sits in the House of Lords.

© Ciaran Crossey 2004

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