The independent unionist MLA for east Londonderry David McClarty has died.
The former UUP member had been suffering from cancer and his death was confirmed on Friday morning. He was 63.
He began his political career in 1989 when he was elected to Coleraine Borough Council.
He became an independent MLA in 2011.
Mr McClarty studied English and the classics at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus before taking up a career in insurance.
Married to Norma with two sons, he was part of a church choir and an amateur actor, regularly performing with the cross-community Ballywillan drama group in Portrush. The society was in the process of auditioning for parts in Hairspray, a Broadway musical about the 1960s in the US.
The parishioner at Killowen Church in Coleraine had been a member of the church choir since the age of 10. He also enthusiastically supported Coleraine FC.
Returning golf’s Irish Open to Portrush and the rights of vehicle licensing workers in Coleraine faced with losing their jobs were among political causes he espoused.
Politicians have paid tribute to a man they say was respected across the political divide.
Former UUP leader and current party chairman Lord Empey said he was deeply saddened by is colleague’s death.
“It is with great sadness that I learned of David’s passing.
“At all times David was a real gentleman in politics; he managed to combine sincere beliefs with a great sense of humour and was slow to make political enemies, which says a lot about him.
“The past year has been a real struggle for David and his family, and I was always touched by his great optimism and fortitude even when he knew the odds were against him. He was always willing to put his views forward in a fearless manner, but did so in a way that did not add hurt or injury to many inflamed situations.
“David is a great loss to Northern Ireland politics. I would like to pass on our deepest sympathies to David’s family and friends.”
East Londonderry SDLP MLA John Dallat said he left a legacy of hope.
“There is no more warm and affable man in politics today,” he said.
“David leaves behind a legacy of good will and a shining example of how communities can work and live together.
“His ability to work with every political party and every shade of political opinion made him a beacon of hope for a future that’s inclusive of everyone.”
Ukip Northern Ireland leader and former UUP colleague David McNarry said he was a man of principle.
“I will miss his humour and kindness. He was a true moderate unionist and a gentleman and an able public representative. My sympathy goes to his family. The assembly will be a poorer place without him.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said Mr McClarty was probably the most popular MLA at Stormont.
“He was always a positive, progressive thinker and I am sorry that I didn’t get the opportunity to work with him as a party colleague in the Ulster Unionist Assembly group.
“David is a huge loss to politics in Northern Ireland and will be much missed by the people of East Londonderry.
“My thoughts and prayers are with David`s family and many friends.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said Mr McClarty will be missed on the ‘opposition’ benches at Stormont.
“I am greatly saddened to hear of the passing of David McClarty. I wish to convey to his family my condolences and that of our party.
“David was one of the gentlemen of politics, but no push over. He stood up for what he believed in and though our politics differed in emphasis, we shared a mutual respect and some common causes. Indeed just a year ago we were to go on a joint meeting to discuss the future of the Northern Trust when he fell ill and the meeting had to be cancelled. Sadly, David made only one return visit to the Stormont chamber in July when he was greeted with a round of applause. Such was his popularity.
“He fought his illness with great courage and tenacity. Even how he faced his illness was a mark of the man. He will be missed on the ‘opposition’ benches at Stormont and in a much wider and community field.”