Tributes follow death of ‘one of a kind’ veteran unionist Lord Laird

Lord Laird
Lord Laird

Figures from the worlds of politics, business, and the Orange Order have praised independent unionist peer Lord Laird, following his death at the age of 74.

Statements hailing John Dunn Laird’s contribution to public life came in from both the UUP, his former party, and the DUP – as well as the Orange Order, and his old PR firm.

He died late on Tuesday evening.

Orange Grand Master Edward Stevenson said: “As well as an articulate advocate for Unionism and Ulster-Scots, Lord Laird was also a proud Orangeman.

“As a parliamentarian, he lobbied on behalf of the Institution and would always have sought to defend and uphold the ideals of Orangeism.

“Spectators at the Belfast Twelfth became accustomed to John in period costume, interacting with the crowds in his own distinctive way.

James Donnelly, lay Chaplin of Royal York 145, who died near the Somme as a result of enemy action during the First World War, is here being remembered on behalf of his lodge by Brother John Laird

James Donnelly, lay Chaplin of Royal York 145, who died near the Somme as a result of enemy action during the First World War, is here being remembered on behalf of his lodge by Brother John Laird

“He was a unique character, who will be sadly missed.”

Belfast County Grand Master Spencer Beattie said: “John was truly one of a kind and was highly respected by his fellow Orange brethren across the city and beyond. His absence will be certainly felt at this year’s Twelfth, but no doubt John will be with us in spirit such was his love for the Institution.”

Lord Laird became Stormont's youngest MP in 1970 when he won a by-election caused by the death of his father.

He then comfortably won the 1973 election to the old Stormont parliament for the seat of Belfast West, winning 11,479 votes.

Lord Laird

Lord Laird

His nearest rival, Paddy Devlin of the SDLP, won 7,743 votes.

At the time he was standing as a “UUP anti-White Paper” candidate – one of two factions in the party, which had split over a government white paper proposing a power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, which allowed for politicians in the Republic to have input into Northern Irish affairs.

A few years later he started a PR firm called John Laird PR, based on the Holywood Road, east Belfast.

It is still going, and today is called JComms.

Director Jane Wells said: “The PR industry in Northern Ireland has lost one of its founding fathers. He was central to shaping the industry we have today. John was also a former colleague and a dear friend who will be sorely missed.”

He became a life peer in 1999.

He left the UUP five years ago after being accused of breaking parliamentary rules, but remained a non-affiliated lord.

In a statement UUP leader Robin Swann paid tribute to the "larger-than-life character, who cared deeply for Northern Ireland".

He added: "My deepest sympathies go to Lord Laird's family and in particular his wife Carol and his children, Alison and David.

"He will be sadly missed by his family and wide circle of friends.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “I have known John Laird for many years and he had a character which was larger than life. The news of his death will be felt across Unionism and the Ulster-Scots community, of which he was a strong advocate. It is very poignant that he should pass away at this time of year and I am very sorry to hear of his passing.

He never shied away from speaking his mind whether inside or outside the House of Lords and was never afraid to speak up for Unionism.

I extend my sympathy to his entire family circle.”