Former NI junior minister dies on holiday


A former junior minister in Northern Ireland died while on a diving holiday in Costa Rica, it was revealed today.

James Leslie, 50, an Ulster Unionist member of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in 2002, is suspected to have suffered a heart attack.

The married father-of-one was holidaying in central America with friends.

A former Hong Kong banker, his passions included the environment, hill-walking and sailing.

The former North Antrim Assemblyman, whose father owned an extensive farm in the rural constituency near Ballymoney, was married to second wife Judena and they had an eight-year-old daughter.

He joined the Conservative Party in 2006 after claiming Northern Ireland politics had gone stale.

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said: “The sudden passing of James Leslie has come as a profound shock to all involved in politics in Northern Ireland.

“As a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and then as a junior minister in the Executive, James made a significant contribution to politics at a time of great challenge in Northern Ireland, as our society emerged from the pain of the Troubles.

“For James’ life to end at a time when he still had much to offer our society is a matter of profound regret.”

Mr Leslie first won his Assembly seat in 1998, briefly becoming a junior minister in 2002. He didn’t stand in the 2003 election and devoted his energies to bringing about stronger ties between the Conservatives and the UUP as well as his willow renewable business.

He was in the working party which spearheaded moves to bring the two parties together and stood unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in the 2007 Assembly elections in North Down.