Northern Ireland news

Colourful and controversial unionist peer Lord Laird dies

Lord Laird was an enthusiastic participant in Twelfth demonstrations. Picture by Mal McCann

INDEPENDENT unionist peer Lord John Laird of Artigarvan, who has died at the age of 74, has been described as a "larger-than-life character, who cared deeply for Northern Ireland".

The former Ulster Unionist MP and public relations practitioner, who later in life was at the centre of a number of minor political scandals, was a strong advocate of Ulster Scots culture. He died on Tuesday night following a short illness.

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

He left the Ulster Unionist Party in 2013 after being accused of breaking parliamentary rules.

The late peer was an ardent Orangeman and a founding member of Boyne Obelisk Lodge LOL 1690 and the Houses of Parliament lodge at Westminster.

In 2013, Lord Laird was filmed by BBC Panorama and the Daily Telegraph discussing a retainer for parliamentary questions.

He always maintained he had done nothing wrong.

In 2005, it emerged that while chairman of the Ulster Scots Agency, Lord Laird claimed more than £2,000 in taxi fares over a ten-month period, including £240 and £260 for Belfast to Dublin return trips.

Last year when it emerged that he had claimed almost £50,000 in expenses, despite only voting twice in the House of Lords over a 12 month period, the peer said his "conscience is clear".

Lord Laird said his frail health meant his office was too far away to attend each vote.

Ulster Unionist Party chairman Lord Reg Empey was among those who sent their condolences to his children Carol, Alison and David.

"I’ve known John since we were in the Young Unionists together," he said.

"He had a lifetime commitment to unionism and Ulster Scots culture which he demonstrated in his own colourful and flamboyant way."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said Lord Laird was a "larger-than-life character, who cared deeply for Northern Ireland".

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the peer's death would be "felt across unionism and the Ulster-Scots community".

"It is very poignant that he should pass away at this time of year and I am very sorry to hear of his passing," she said.

"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."

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Grand Master Edward Stevenson said: "As well as an articulated 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."

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