Seamus Close: a big political personality, who will be missed

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

One of the great personalities of Northern Ireland politics has died at the relatively youthful age, by modern standards of longevity, of 71.

Seamus Close was involved in the Alliance Party from shortly after its creation and was elected to Lisburn as a councillor near the height of the Troubles, in 1973.

He continued to be a councillor for more than 30 years, and built up a strong local following.

That he easily topped the poll in the overwhelmingly unionist seat of Lagan Valley in the Assembly election of 1998 tells its own story.

But Mr Close had a Province-wide following too.

From appearing on television political analysis shows to holding forth on Talkback, including latterly engaging in good natured sparring with William Crawley on matters ranging from faith to transport to gay rights, Mr Close was always an engaging presence.

He was a self evidently non sectarian man, who was critical of tribal cruelty wherever he found it.

But he also held to his traditional principles on social matters such as marriage.

That was one of the reasons he stepped back from a frontline role in Alliance.

Mr Close was disappointed not to get the leadership of the party that he had served so long. But he was an unconventional figure who might not have been comfortable in, or entirely suited to, such a position.

He was however someone whose voice commanded respect.

His son Brian says that Mr Close “came across quite forthright in his debating style ... but behind closed doors, he was quite a softie”.

Viewers and radio listeners and readers sensed that warmth about him, underneath an at times abrupt exterior.

It was why he was so popular, and why he will be missed.