James Molyneaux
James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionist party from 1979 to 1995, has died aged 94Getty

James Molyneaux, the former leader of the Ulster Unionist party, has died aged 94, the party has confirmed. The former MP, who led the UUP from 1979 to 1995, has been praised for bringing stability to the party "at a time when it was much needed".

In a career spanning more than 30 years, Molyneaux was the MP for South Antrim from 1970 to 1983 and for Lagan Valley from 1983 to 1997.

He was elected to the UUP in 1979, taking over from Harry West. Molyneaux was been praised for holding the party together during continuing challenges from Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley, who died in September 2014.

As well as being an MP, Molyneaux also served in the army and was one of the first British troops to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

He was knighted in 1996 and was awarded a life peer the following year, taking the title of Lord Molyneaux of Killead.

Tributes to Molyneaux

Current UUP leader Mike Nesbitt paid tribute to the 94-year-old, saying the party had lost "one of its greatest".

He said: "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 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 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 Lord 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."

DUP leader Peter Robinson said Molyneaux was "first and foremost a committed unionist".

He said: "Through his service in the RAF in World War Two and 27 years as a member of parliament, 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."