Ulster MP dies on way to Commons

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Sir James Kilfedder, the independent Unionist MP for North Down, died from a heart attack last night. Sir James, 66, collapsed on the train from Gatwick airport to London after flying from his home in Northern Ireland. He was believed to be travelling to the Commons for a 10pm vote.

He was a well-liked figure in the Commons and was a staunch supporter of John Major despite misgivings about the Northern Ireland framework document. His death will come as a further blow to the Prime Minister. James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionists, whose party has threatened to try to bring down the Government in protest at the Northern Ireland framework document, said Mr Kilfedder's death was a "savage blow".

Mr Molyneaux said: "We were the two political survivors of the Ulster Unionist group within the Conservative Parliamentary Party.

"Jim entered Parliament for the second time in the year I was elected and we worked closely in that team until its dissolution in 1974."

The by-election to fill his seat will provide a test of Protestant feelings about the ceasefires and the recent Anglo-Irish framework documents. The constituency normally favours moderate candidates and the nationalist vote is negligible. In the 1992 general election he had a majority of 5,000 over a Conservative candidate.

The Ulster Unionist party did not stand, while the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists polled poorly. The by-election is likely to feature a range of Unionist candidates.

With 27 years in the Commons, Sir James as the longest-serving of Northern Ireland's 17 MPs. He represented the west Belfast constituency from 1964 to 1966, then from 1970 on served as North Down MP. In 1970 he had a majority of 41,000, the largest in the UK.

Originally a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, his individualistic style often caused trouble and he left in 1979 to found the Ulster Popular Unionist Party, whose sole parliamentary representative he has always been.