Seamus Close obituary: Former Alliance Party deputy leader and acerbic wit

Famously forthright debater was a rottweiler in seeking out financial shortcomings

Seamus Close was forthright, articulate, with an acerbic wit. He never toed a party line, as willing to annoy Alliance as the other parties

Seamus Close was forthright, articulate, with an acerbic wit. He never toed a party line, as willing to annoy Alliance as the other parties

 

Seamus Close 
Born: August 12th, 1947  
Died: May 7th, 2019

Seamus Close, who has died in his native Lisburn after a short illness, was a famously forthright debater who was deputy leader of the North’s Alliance Party for a decade. As a member of the Northern Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, he was a rottweiler in seeking out financial shortcomings in public administration. In all he spent 34 years as an Alliance public representative, first a councillor in Lisburn, then also an Assembly member for Lagan Valley.

Seamus Anthony Close was born in Lisburn in August 1947, second of six children and first son to James Close, a surveyor and native of Lisburn, and his wife Kathleen (née Murphy), a native of Newry. He was educated at Primary School in Lisburn; St Malachy’s College in Belfast; and the College of Business Studies in Belfast (now Belfast Metropolitan College).

After qualifying with a higher national diploma in business studies, he went to work with SD Bell tea blenders and coffee roasters. He combined that employment with his political career, rising to become a director.

When the Alliance Party was formed in 1970, he joined. He felt the North had to change, and “I couldn’t help make those changes by sitting on the sideline”. He was first elected to the newly-formed Lisburn Borough Council in 1973, holding the seat in seven subsequent elections.

His famous bluntness made political opponents able to do business with him, because they knew where he stood

On council he was a mentor to younger councillors, of all parties. He always told them they could have it out in the council chamber, but if they couldn’t shake hands and get on outside, they were in the wrong business.

In 1993 he became Lisburn’s first Catholic and first non-unionist mayor. On becoming mayor, he wrote to each church in Lisburn asking if he could attend a service. For the next weeks, he attended up to three services each weekend.

He was elected to the 1982 Northern Ireland Assembly for the old South Antrim constituency, sitting until the British government abolished it in 1986. He suffered several defeats as Alliance candidate for Westminster in Lagan Valley, When the current Assembly was established in 1998, he was elected. He held his seat for a second term before retiring.

In the Assembly he sat on the Public Accounts Committee. There his financial expertise was invaluable in sniffing out maladministration. He had an abhorrence for public money being wasted.

In 1991, he was elected Alliance’s deputy leader. He did not always see eye-to-eye with the party. He resigned the deputy leadership because of disagreement with the party’s direction. He was “Old Alliance”, tending to its more socially conservative wing. His famous bluntness made political opponents able to do business with him, because they knew where he stood.

While he had a punishing schedule of work, with meetings most evenings, he always made plenty of time for his children

He retired from politics at the end of 2006, as the DUP and Sinn Féin were edging towards a deal. In a parting salvo, he said: “What we are moving towards is not the sharing of power, it is the carving up of power.”

In retirement he made a new career as a political commentator. He was forthright, articulate, with an acerbic wit. He never toed a party line, as willing to annoy Alliance as the other parties.

Personally, he was good company and generous. A constituent once approached him on a Friday afternoon with a problem which he could not resolve till the following week. She had no money to get through the weekend. He emptied his wallet, and told her he didn’t want repayment.

Above all he was a family man. His family did not experience the pugnacious debater. While he had a punishing schedule of work, with meetings most evenings, he always made plenty of time for his children.

In retirement he kept fit, taking a long walk every day. That made his final illness a shock. However, he said he felt content, relaxed and happy to have lived such a happy and full life, and fulfilled his final wish of dying at home surrounded by his family.

He is survived by his wife Deirdre; daughter Natasha; sons Christopher Brian and Stephen; grandchildren Thomas, Rory and Emily; and three sisters and two brothers.