Tributes to ‘one of most gifted politicians of his generation’

Charles Kennedy in Belfast city centre in January 2007 during canvassing for the Alliance Party
Charles Kennedy in Belfast city centre in January 2007 during canvassing for the Alliance Party

Northern Ireland politicians from across the spectrum have paid tribute to former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, whose death at the age of 55 has shocked Westminster.

Mr Kennedy had served as an MP for 32 years, but was ousted from his Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency last month as the SNP swept the board north of the border in the general election.

Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said Mr Kennedy’s death “robs Britain of one of the most gifted politicians of his generation”, while Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of a man he described as “a talented politician who has died too young”.

Police were called out to Mr Kennedy’s home in Fort William on Monday, after being alerted by the ambulance service. It is understood that the politician’s body was found in the house by a friend. The cause of his death is not yet known but it is not thought by police to be suspicious.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Mr Kennedy was one of the few politicians in the United Kingdom “who successfully transcended the political world and made a real connection with the public right across the country”.

He added that he had devoted his entire adult life over 30 years to public service.

“His battle against alcoholism undoubtedly impacted upon his career and the further legacy he could have created had he been able to continue leading his party,” he said. “Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues who will be mourning the loss of someone who was deeply loved and who made an impact not only on Parliament and the United Kingdom, but upon all those who knew him. We offer them our deepest condolences.”

The Alliance Party’s Naomi Long said: “Charles was a politician for whom I had great admiration, even before I had the privilege of knowing him personally. Having met him several times at Alliance events, I was privileged to have him as my guest of honour to speak at my Lord Mayoral installation dinner.”

Her party leader David Ford said Mr Kennedy was “a politician of deep principle; never afraid of being unpopular if he was standing up for what was right”.

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said Mr Kennedy often demonstrated “the greatest qualities of any MP in recent decades”.

“A true liberal, his dedication to reason and progressive politics was epitomised when he led the opposition to the invasion of Iraq,” one of the many causes the SDLP and Lib Dems agreed on.

See Morning View, page 20