James Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead

James Henry Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead, KBE, PC (27 August 1920 – 9 March 2015), often known as Jim Molyneaux, was a Northern Irish unionist politician, and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) from 1979 to 1995.[1] He was a leading member and sometime Vice-President of the Conservative Monday Club. An Orangeman,[2] he was also Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution from 1971 to 1995.[3]

The Lord Molyneaux of Killead

Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
In office
7 September 1979  8 September 1995
Preceded byHarry West
Succeeded byDavid Trimble
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
10 June 1997  9 March 2015
Life Peerage
Member of Parliament
for Lagan Valley
In office
9 June 1983  1 May 1997
Preceded byConstituency created
Succeeded byJeffrey Donaldson
Member of Parliament
for South Antrim
In office
18 June 1970  9 June 1983
Preceded byKnox Cunningham
Succeeded byClifford Forsythe
Personal details
James Henry Molyneaux

(1920-08-27)27 August 1920
Killead, Ireland
Died9 March 2015(2015-03-09) (aged 94)
Antrim, Northern Ireland
Political partyUlster Unionist Party
ResidenceKillead, County Antrim
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/service Royal Air Force
Years of service1941–1946
RankFlying Officer
Battles/warsWorld War II

Early life

Born in Killead, County Antrim to William Molyneaux and Sarah Gilmore,[4] Molyneaux was educated at nearby Aldergrove School. Although he was raised an Anglican, as a child he briefly attended a local Catholic primary school.[5] When a Catholic church near his home was burnt down by Ulster loyalist arsonists in the late 1990s, Molyneaux helped to raise funds for its rebuilding.[5]

Military service

In World War II Molyneaux served in the Royal Air Force between 1941 and 1946. He participated in the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp, and occasionally gave interviews about what he saw there. On 1 April 1947, he was promoted to flying officer.[6][7]

Political career

From 1964 until the 1970s, Molyneaux served on Antrim County Council,[8] as well as a number of committees concerning local healthcare.[citation needed] At the 1970 UK general election he was elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom at Westminster as UUP Member of Parliament (MP) for South Antrim, succeeding Sir Knox Cunningham, with whom he had worked closely as honorary secretary of the South Antrim Unionist Association.[8]

South Antrim had one of the largest electorates of any Westminster constituency, and it consistently returned Unionist MPs with large majorities. Cunningham's 1959 majority of 50,041 was the largest in the United Kingdom,[9] achieved with 95.1% of the votes.[10][11] Molyneaux won over 60% of the votes in each of the 4 elections he contested in South Antrim,[12] and at the 1979 UK general election his 69.0% share of the votes gave him a majority of 38,868 votes, the largest in the United Kingdom.[13]

In October 1974, Molyneaux became leader of the Ulster Unionists in the House of Commons. From 1982 to 1986 he sat as a UUP member for South Antrim in the failed 1982 Northern Ireland Assembly.[14][15] Molyneaux was admitted to the Privy Council in 1982,[5] and in October that year he survived two Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) assassination attempts on the one day.[15]

With then UUP leader Harry West, Molyneaux had played a significant role in negotiations with James Callaghan's minority Labour government which led to Northern Irelands representation in the Commons being increased from 12 to 17 seats, under the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1979.[16] The extra seats were added for the 1983 UK general election, when the resulting boundary changes divided South Antrim, and Molyneaux was elected for the new seat of Lagan Valley.[17][18]

UUP Leadership

UUP leader Harry West had lost his Westminster seat at October 1974 UK general election,[19] and did not stand at May 1979 UK general election.[20] Then in the June 1979 European Parliament election, West stood in the 3-seat Northern Ireland constituency. West was not only out-polled by almost 3:1 by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley, but was beaten to the third seat by his own party colleague John Taylor.[21] West resigned the leadership shortly after his defeat, and was succeeded by Molyneaux.[13]

After a decade of turmoil in which the UUP had four leaders and many splits, Molyneaux seen as a steadying influence.[22] He was a traditional right-wing Orangeman,[15] with a quiet style[16] which contrasted with the flamboyance of Ian Paisley's leadership of the DUP.[22] His reticence was both innate and tactical; since the UUP was united around a constitutional stance rather than a socio-economic programme, he regarded his task as more like that of a manager than a leader,[22] and his successor David Trimble said that Molyneaux "did things quietly and consensually".[23] He was so deeply loyal to The Conservative-turned-unionist MP Enoch Powell that Northern Ireland secretary Jim Prior said that Powell worked James Molyneaux with his foot.[8] In his memoirs, Prior wrote that "at Westminster he was Enoch's puppet".[13] Molyneaux had called Prior "pig-headed and stupid" in 1983, unsuccessfully demanding Prior's replacement.[15]

He felt most at home in Westminster, and believed that behind-the-scenes influence in London was the most effective path for unionist influence. He opposed formal power-sharing between unionists and nationalists, and routinely denounced political initiatives,[8] condemning SDLP leader John Hume for “grubbing around the back-streets of Belfast" to open dialogue with Sinn Féin.[15]

Molyneaux was generally regarded as a member of the integrationist tendency within the UUP (favouring direct rule from Westminster with some extension of local government powers, as opposed to the devolutionist preference for a revived Northern Ireland parliament or assembly).[24] This preference was widely attributed to the influence of Enoch Powell.[22] Critics within Molyneaux's party saw Molyneux as a do-nothing leader,[8] with undue deference to the Conservative Party. Molyneaux's defenders argue that his primary concern was party unity, that the UUP was so divided that only a minimalist policy could hold it together.[22] His ability to accommodate the various factions of unionism was enhanced by his leadership of the Royal Black Institution and his role in the Orange Order.[5] Under his leadership, there was no repetition of the splits of 1970s, and the slide in the party's vote share was halted. He was the last UUP leader to avoid those perils.[25]

Anglo-Irish Agreement

Molyneaux's loyalty to the Conservatives led to him being taken by surprise by the November 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, and overshadowed by Ian Paisley.

On 17 December 1985, Molyneaux resigned his seat,[26] along with his fourteen unionist colleagues in the House of Commons, in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The fifteen Unionist MPs hoped that the by-elections could be portrayed as referendum on the agreement.[27] He was re-elected in the resulting January 1986 by-election,[17] along with all but one of the fourteen other unionists: the UUP's Jim Nicholson, who was defeated in Newry and Armagh by Seamus Mallon of the SDLP.[28]

Monday Club

Throughout the 1980s, Molyneaux was an active member of the Conservative Monday Club. Molyneaux was co-opted onto the Club's Executive Council on 23 June 1983.[29] He later became a Vice-President of the Club. In the October 1985 Conservative Party Conference issue of the Club's tabloid newspaper, Right Ahead, he contributed a lengthy article entitled "Northern Ireland – Ulster belongs to Britain NOT to the Irish Republic". Molyneaux had been present at the crucial Executive Council meeting of 19 December 1990 which accepted, by 11 votes to 3, the decision to stop employing salaried staff at the Club because of its financial deficit.[30][citation needed] Molyneaux subsequently left the Monday Club in February 1991.[citation needed]

Peace process

In 1994, the Provisional IRA called a ceasefire, which Molyneaux described as "the most destabilising event since partition"[31] and "the worst thing that has ever happened to us".[32]


In 1995 Molyneaux was challenged for the leadership of the UUP by a 21-year-old student and, although winning easily, saw a strong protest vote against Molyneaux's leadership registered. Following the UUP's poor showing in the 1995 North Down by-election, Molyneaux yielded to renewed pressure to retire as leader. On retiring as UUP leader, Molyneaux was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1996.[33] The following year, after standing down as an MP at the 1997 general election, Molyneaux was created a life peer on 10 June 1997 as Baron Molyneaux of Killead, of Killead in the County of Antrim.[34]

On several occasions in his retirement, Molyneaux was publicly critical of his successor, David Trimble. He fiercely opposed the Good Friday Agreement, and in 2003 supported three Ulster Unionist MPs (David Burnside, Jeffrey Donaldson and Martin Smyth) when they resigned the party whip in protest against Trimble's leadership and the party's support for the Agreement. In the 2005 general election, Molyneaux caused a storm when he and Smyth endorsed the Democratic Unionist Party candidate Jimmy Spratt over the UUP candidate Michael McGimpsey in Smyth's former constituency of South Belfast.[35] Molyneaux also endorsed Donaldson, his own successor as MP for Lagan Valley, even after Donaldson had defected to the DUP, as well as anti-Trimble UUP candidates such as Burnside. In the election, Donaldson held Lagan Valley by a large majority, while Spratt outpolled McGimpsey (although losing to the SDLP candidate Alasdair McDonnell on a split vote); many claimed that Molyneaux and Smyth's endorsements had contributed to the UUP's disastrous showing. However, Burnside lost his seat.[36]


Molyneaux died at the age of 94 in Antrim, Northern Ireland on 9 March 2015, Commonwealth Day.[23][37][38]

In March 2016 right-wing activist Christopher Luke claimed that he had had a long-term relationship with Molyneaux until the latter's death.[39][40] Molyneaux's relatives questioned the veracity of Luke's claims.[41] Luke died at the age of 50 in December 2017.[42]


Coat of arms of James Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead
A wolf statant Or holding in the dexter forepaw a flax flower Azure slipped and leaved Or.
Gyronny of eight Or and Azure a cross moline between four alder leaves slipped inwards all counterchanged.
On either side a heraldic tyger reguardant Argent gorged with a plain collar attached thereto a chain reflexed over the back Or.
In Hoc Signo Vinces[43]

See also


  • Walker, Brian M., ed. (1992). Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1918–92. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy. ISBN 0-901714-96-8. ISSN 0332-0286.


  1. "(later Lord) James Henry Molyneaux K.B.E." Bergenbelsen.co.uk. Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  2. "Orange photos". Eric Kaufmann's Orange Order Page. Archived from the original on 26 June 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2007.
  3. "Sovereign Grand Masters". Royal Black Institution. Archived from the original on 4 January 2014. Retrieved 26 June 2021.
  4. Burke's Peerage 2003, Volume 2, p.2730
  5. McCreary, Alf (10 March 2015). "James Molyneaux: Political fighter and committed churchman who was a stabilising force for the Ulster Unionists". Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  6. "No. 38147". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 December 1947. pp. 5923–5932.
  7. West, Thomas Baron de (19 December 2014). Handbuch des britischen Adels 2015. ISBN 9783734743795.
  8. "Stubborn but shrewd face of Ulster unionism". The Irish Times. Dublin. 14 March 2015. Archived from the original on 25 June 2021. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  9. Craig, F. W. S. (1981). British electoral facts, 1832-1980. Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 178. ISBN 0-900178-20-5.
  10. Waller, Robert; Criddle, Byron (7 May 2007). The Almanac of British Politics (Eighth ed.). London: Routledge. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-415-37823-9 via Google Books.
  11. Walker 1992, p. 24.
  12. Walker 1992, pp. 28–31.
  13. McKittrick, David (9 March 2015). "James Molyneaux: Ulster Unionist leader for 16 years who fought an ultimately losing battle to maintain the status". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 26 June 2021.
  14. Walker 1992, p. 91.
  15. "OBITUARY: Molyneaux – an outspoken and passionate unionist". The News Letter. Belfast. 9 March 2015. Archived from the original on 22 August 2020. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  16. "The ex-MPs who died in 2015 - part three". BBC News. 28 December 2015. Archived from the original on 26 June 2021. Retrieved 26 June 2021.
  17. Whyte, Nicholas. "Lagan Valley 1983–1992". Northern Ireland Elections. ARK. Archived from the original on 25 June 2021. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  18. Walker 1992, p. 35.
  19. Walker 1992, p. 31.
  20. Walker 1992, pp. 31–33.
  21. Walker 1992, p. 282.
  22. Kane, Alex. "Obituary of Lord Molyneaux by Alex Kane". The News Letter. Belfast. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  23. "James Molyneaux: Former UUP leader dies". BBC News. 9 March 2015. Archived from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  24. Patterson, H. (2012) 'Unionism After Good Friday and St Andrews' in The Political Quarterly, Vol. 83, No.2 (London:Wiley-Blackwell)
  25. Clarke, Liam (9 March 2015). "James Molyneaux: A King Canute who unified his party but couldn't hold back tide of change". Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on 26 June 2021.
  26. "Factsheet P11: The Chiltern Hundreds" (PDF). Factsheet. Procedure Series. House of Commons Information Office: 6. 2011. ISSN 0144-4689. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 April 2021.
  27. Thomas, Jo (23 January 1986). "Ulster protestants see vote as challenge to pact". Archived from the original on 26 June 2021.
  28. Purdy, Martina (15 March 2001). "Seamus Mallon: SDLP deputy leader". Vote2001: Key People. BBC News. Archived from the original on 19 April 2013.
  29. Monday News October 1983, p.3.
  30. "Dag Hammarskjöld Library Research". UN EM. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  31. "Death of 'no-frills' unionist patriarch". Irish Republican News. 14 March 2015. Archived from the original on 16 March 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  32. "IRA ceasefire anniversary: How the events unfolded 20 years ago". Derry Journal. 31 August 2014. Archived from the original on 16 November 2018.
  33. "No. 54255". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1995. p. 8.
  34. "No. 54811". The London Gazette. 19 June 1997. p. 7123.
  35. "PressReader". The Herald. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  36. "Official Report: Monday 09 March 2015. Matter of the Day: James Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead". Northern Ireland Assembly. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  37. "James Molyneaux: Former UUP leader dies age 94". Belfast Telegraph. 9 March 2015. Archived from the original on 10 March 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  38. "TheyWorkForYou". Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  39. Archer, Bimpe (11 March 2016). "Former UUP leader James Molyneaux's 'close companion' tells of 30-year relationship". The Irish News. Belfast. Archived from the original on 5 July 2020.
  40. "Lord Molyneaux's 'close companion' tells of 'very loving relationship'". BBC News. 11 March 2016. Archived from the original on 23 March 2016.
  41. Young, David (12 March 2016). "Jim Molyneaux family dismayed at 'close relationship' claims made by Christopher Luke". Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on 13 March 2016.
  42. Archer, Bimpe (12 December 2017). "Lord Molyneaux 'close companion' Christopher Luke dies in England". The Irish News. Belfast. Archived from the original on 25 June 2021.
  43. Debrett's Peerage. 2000.