Wednesday 26 June 2019

Ashdown added both 'energy and candour' to the public life in UK

Obituary: Paddy Ashdown

Single-minded: Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown had served as a commando. Photo: Reuters
Single-minded: Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown had served as a commando. Photo: Reuters
John Downing

John Downing

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to Paddy Ashdown, the pioneering leader of the British Liberal Democrat Party, who has died aged 77.

The President said he was saddened to learn of Mr Ashdown's death, adding that he brought "energy and candour" to public life in Britain and overseas. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, whose party is allied with the Liberal Democrats, said he will be sadly missed by many people.

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Born in New Delhi in 1941, to a Catholic father and Protestant mother both from Northern Ireland, he was christened John Jeremy Durham. He acquired the lifelong nickname Paddy due to his Irish accent, when his father secured a place for him at his old school at Bedford in England.

By then his parents and their seven children were back living in Co Down where his father struggled to run a pig farm and later a market gardening enterprise. Paddy Ashdown soon lost the Irish accent but that name stayed with him.

After school he served as a commando in the Special Boat Services section of the Royal Marines, seeing action in Kuwait, Borneo, Hong Kong and Northern Ireland, where he was once famously required to arrest civil rights leader John Hume. He once reflected had he been raised as a Catholic nationalist in the North he could have ended up in the IRA.

After the army he joined the British Foreign Office and later did a variety of jobs as he struggled to get a foothold in politics.

He was elected as a Liberal Party MP for the Somerset constituency of Yeovil in 1983. He emerged as leader of the newly branded Liberal Democrats in 1987, and under his guidance the party was for a time on the cusp of a breakthrough, becoming the second largest party in local councils across England and Wales.

Never a popular leader he was also a poor public speaker. But he was single-minded and hard-working with a wide variety of skills. In 1992 he was revealed to have had an affair with his secretary, which led 'The Sun' newspaper to dub him "Paddy Pantsdown". But the revelations did not harm his political career. He stood down from the Lib Dem leadership in 1999 and retired from the House of Commons in 2001.

In 2002 he was appointed high representative of the International Community and EU special representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The role gave him wide powers to sack politicians and judges, issue decrees and set up institutions from his office in Sarajevo. In 2007 the British and US governments offered him a similar role in Afghanistan, but he was rejected by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

He remained active in UK politics, taking a seat in the House of Lords.

Irish Independent

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