By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
The first unionist politician ever elected to the Seanad has been made an OBE.
Ian Marshall has been recognised in the British New Year Honours list for his public and political service.
The former senator and president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union said he was “completely blindsided” when he received the notification of the honour.
The 53-year-old, from Co Armagh, was the first unionist to be elected to the Republic’s upper chamber in 2018, as an independent.
He lost his seat in the Seanad elections in April last year and has since joined the Ulster Unionist Party and will run in the Stormont Assembly elections in 2022.
He said: “I had no idea I had even been nominated, it came completely out of the blue.
“I was completely blindsided by this.
“I am really honoured and astounded that I was even considered for this.
“I was opening my normal mail when I got the letter. To get a letter like that was just breathtaking.”
Mr Marshall said he had entered public life as a lobbyist when he was just 18.
He said: “I did that, and then I became president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. I worked for about eight to 10 years on the agri-food strategy board, and then I took the opportunity to run in the Seanad by-election.
“I ran and was elected to the Irish Seanad. I was always minded that I was there as an Ulster unionist, I was there to represent unionist opinions and perspectives.
“I spent all my life in politics and public life trying to make things better, to change things. It is lovely for that to be recognised and acknowledged – that is a huge honour and a huge privilege.”
Mr Marshall said he is optimistic for the political future in Northern Ireland.
He said: “I have always maintained in Northern Ireland the silent majority is the important voice, the largest number of people are fundamentally good people who want to see Northern Ireland thrive and do well.
“They are cognisant and aware of the troubles we have had and recognise that but want to focus on building a shared future together for everyone.
“I think that the people I work with and socialise with are all fundamentally good people, they are proud of their identity but accept others. They are tired of the old bigotry of sectarianism.
“The time that I was in Dublin gave me a fantastic insight into the political structures, Irish politics, the political parties and their attitudes to the north and what goes on in Northern Ireland.
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that to make peace you have got to talk with your enemies. I am very strong in my unionism, but I am happy to talk to anybody and respect everyone’s identity.”
Mr Marshall said the date for him to receive his honour has not yet been set, but that he is looking forward to doing so with his family.