Neill, Sir Ivan (1906–2001), politician and company director, was born in the Bloomfield district of east Belfast on 1 July 1906. He was educated at Ravenscroft national school and Shaftesbury Tutorial College, and graduated from QUB with an honours degree in economics. He began his working life in the time office of the Belfast Ropeworks and was later employed in the city warehouse of Eason & Son, Donegall St., Belfast. He founded his own business in 1928. During the second world war he interrupted his business career to join the Royal Engineers. He was sent overseas and served mainly in India (including a period attached to US forces), reaching the rank of major.
His public life began in 1945 when he was elected as a councillor to Belfast corporation; he served as an alderman of the city 1948–50 and 1964–70. Following the resignation of Frederick Thompson (1883–1951) in 1949, he was returned to Stormont for the Ballynafeigh division of Belfast. He was unopposed in 1949, and withstood challenges from either liberal or labour candidates in each successive election between 1953 and 1972. Appointed minister of labour and national insurance (January 1950), he served for over twelve years before moving to become minister of education (March 1962). In a further cabinet reshuffle (1964) he was appointed minister of finance and leader of the house of commons. In April 1965, however, he resigned from the government, stating that the decision of the prime minister, Terence O'Neill (qv), to make a change in the arrangements for the leadership of the house had prompted him to review his position. He was reappointed to the cabinet in December 1968 as minister of development and remained in this position until March 1969, when he became the third speaker of the NI house of commons.
In October 1971 he became the subject of media attention when the Official IRA made an abortive bid to kidnap him. Two months later, his country house near Rostrevor, Co. Down, was burned down in an arson attack. The Official IRA, who had recently threatened reprisals if British troops attempted to enter the ‘Free Derry’ area, claimed responsibility.
Both he and the speaker of the NI senate, Lord Glentoran (qv) were knighted after the dissolution of the Stormont parliament, and, on the publication of plans for a power-sharing assembly to replace it, Neill resigned from active parliamentary politics. In his retirement, however, he wrote a book, Church and state, in which he appealed to unionists to bring an end to internal divisions.
From his earliest days he was a committed Christian, and was actively involved in the life and witness of the baptist church as a Sunday-school teacher and a youth leader. A member of the Orange order, he was admitted to the privy council of Northern Ireland in 1950. He married (1928) Margaret Helena (née Allen), who predeceased him. He died 4 November 2001.