Unionist president dies in road crash

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The Independent Online

A road accident in south Belfast yesterday claimed the life of Sir Josias Cunningham, the president of the Ulster Unionist Party and a close ally of its leader, David Trimble.

A road accident in south Belfast yesterday claimed the life of Sir Josias Cunningham, the president of the Ulster Unionist Party and a close ally of its leader, David Trimble.

Although Sir Josias, who was 66, was not well known to the general public, he was for decades an important figure behind the scenes in Unionism and the Orange Order.

He was viewed as an advocate of unity in a party riven by factions and a never-ending struggle between its moderates and its hardliners. He died in a two-vehicle accident at Carryduff, in Co Down.

The sudden death may leave a gap in the pro-Trimble ranks, though it is too early to say whether the election of a successor will turn into a contest between those for and against the Good Friday Agreement.

A member of a well-off Co Antrim family, he was a stockbroker and a farmer on a large scale. He was one of the few representatives of the moneyed classes not to beat a hasty retreat from Unionist politics when the troubles started.

His sense of noblesse oblige was rare and, as a result, his slightly old-fashioned approach and manners seemed increasingly out of place in the Unionist party. His emphasis was not on policy but on holding together a deeply divided party.

He loyally served two very different leaders in James Molyneaux and later David Trimble. He defended Lord Molyneaux against internal attacks, at a 1995 conference: "If you are tempted to, let us say, rock the boat, just remember it is not just the others you are damaging. It is you yourselves."

But when Mr Trimble took over a few months later Sir Josias served him just as loyally. The party's deputy leader, John Taylor, remarked yesterday: "He was supreme in the chair, a real moderator amongst divided opinions." Recently knighted, he leaves a wife and four grown-up children.

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