Glass, (John) Basil Caldwell (1926–2005), politician, lawyer, and judge, was born 21 May 1926 in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, eldest of two sons and one daughter of John Glass (1894–1956), methodist minister, and his wife Muriel Florence (née Caldwell), whose father was also a methodist minister. He studied at Methodist College, Belfast, and QUB (LLB, 1947), and qualified as a solicitor in 1950. He established a successful Belfast practice, Basil Glass & Co. A prominent methodist lay activist, Glass represented the Methodist Church in Ireland on the executive committee of the World Methodist Council (1961–5), chaired the Irish church's manpower committee in 1968, and served as a governor of Edgehill Theological College, Belfast. He also chaired the regional council of the YMCA (1970). In the early 1960s he was active in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an international Christian pacifist group with members from all the major churches. He was a founder in 1965 of the inter-denominational Corrymeela Community – a Christian group (loosely modelled on the Scottish Iona Community) seeking to promote reconciliation and healing of those affected by Northern Ireland's sectarian divisions – and served for several years on its executive.
When the New Ulster Movement was founded (February 1969), Glass was joint treasurer (with Oliver Napier (1935–2011)). A decade older than most of the other founders, he came to be seen as something of a father figure. According to Napier, Glass's involvement reflected a fundamental revulsion against the thought that people were being treated unfairly in the society in which he lived. A founder (April 1970) and first chairman (1970–72) of the Alliance party, Glass later served as party president (1972–4), and chief whip (1973–6), working in his law office by day, and by night helping to set up party branches across the province. He also chaired the party's policy committee. Glass hailed the party's formation as 'an uprising of the ordinary people not prepared to be the pawns of our traditional political system the only sign of hope' (Irish Times, 7 November 1970). Representing South Belfast in the Northern Ireland Assembly (1973–4), he was a member of the Alliance negotiating team (with Napier and Bob Cooper (qv)) in the talks leading to the Sunningdale agreement (December 1973), and held a junior ministerial position in the resultant power-sharing executive as a coalition whip. Despite the collapse of the executive (May 1974), Glass always remained proud of his role in the negotiations, and maintained that they had established the basis for any future devolved settlement, which required power-sharing as of right, and a significant Irish dimension.
Elected on the first count, Glass represented South Belfast in the Constitutional Convention (1975–6). He unsuccessfully contested South Belfast in the 1974 (October) and 1979 Westminster elections, and was narrowly defeated in the same constituency for the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982. He represented Pottinger ward on Belfast city council (1977–81); Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP MP for South Belfast, who had represented the same council ward, paid posthumous tribute to Glass's supportiveness towards him as a new councillor in the late 1970s: 'His generosity and camaraderie extended far beyond the confines of his own party. I hope God treats him the way he treated the rest of us' (Irish News, 1 October 2005). Glass was Alliance deputy leader (1976–80); though he resigned this position (and subsequently retired from Belfast council) to focus on his legal practice, he remained active in the party, serving as vice-chairman (1983–5) and chairman (1985–7). Although Alliance, which found its strongest support among the middle classes of the Greater Belfast area, was often caricatured as a self-righteous association of the great and good, Glass's commitment to social reform and community work in his South Belfast constituency, as well as to constitutional reconciliation, was widely praised by members of other parties; on his death, the then SDLP leader Mark Durkan commented: 'The label "moderate" does not do justice to his determinedly progressive outlook' (Irish News, 1 October 2005). Throughout his career Glass was forthright in expressing his views, and in criticising hardline opponents.
He was appointed a master of the supreme court of judicature of Northern Ireland (1987–98), and later served as bankruptcy and companies manager of the high court. In these quasi-judicial positions, he added to his reputation as a hard-working and knowledgeable lawyer, and as genial, polite, and a good listener.
Glass married firstly (1952) Elizabeth Charlotte Caldwell, with whom he had four sons; the marriage was dissolved in 1980. He married secondly (1980) Mary Burnell Clark (née Chubb), herself an Alliance activist, by whom he had two stepsons. He died 30 September 2005 at his home in Hillsborough, Co. Down, after a long illness. At his funeral service the former Alliance leader Oliver Napier recalled that shortly before his death Glass had informed the prominent methodist minister Harold Good (one of the official witnesses to IRA arms decommissioning) that he was glad to have lived to see republican arms put beyond use. Good replied: 'Basil, I was only at the finishing of what you started' (Irish Times, 15 October 2005). Although centrist politics in Northern Ireland has attracted much less academic and popular attention than its paramilitary and extremist opponents, there can be little doubt that Basil Glass was one of its leading exponents.