A founding member of the DUP who was a firm political ally of Ian Paisley has died at the age of 88.
Alderman James McClure, who was the same age as Lord Bannside, was first elected as a Coleraine councillor in 1977 and was a member of the ‘Prior Assembly’ in the 1980s.
For a quarter of a century, he was party chairman of the DUP and in later years was party president.
DUP leader Peter Robinson yesterday led tributes to the former Coleraine mayor, describing him as “a genuine friend of the party”.
“I was greatly saddened by the news of James’ death,” the First Minister said.
“Throughout the DUP James was considered a father figure who worked tirelessly for his constituents. James’ loyalty, faithfulness and dedication to unionism will be greatly missed, however his efforts remain as an inspiration to this generation.”
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr said that the party stalwart had been “more than a party colleague – he was a dear friend”.
He said: “Jim helped my family loyally over the years. When my father was in prison Jim helped look after our home and family.
“He was one of my father’s most trusted and closest friends. His loss will be felt by us all.”
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, who knew Mr McClure for 40 years, had gone to visit him in hospital on Sunday when he was told that his old friend had died.
He said: “The entire DUP family will miss him greatly; none will miss him more than his wife and family, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences.”
A traditional DUP member, Mr McClure was also a member of the Independent Orange Order.
His seniority and position as a founding member of the party gave him the ability to speak his mind – even against party colleagues.
In 2008, he publicly opposed a plan by the then DUP environment minister Sammy Wilson to temporarily open MoT test centres on Sundays to relieve a backlog.
But as a firm party man, he was among the first DUP members to speak up in defence of Peter Robinson after revelations about his wife’s affair and financial dealings.
Five years ago he told a Twelfth demonstration that he was “vexed” by attacks on migrants , warning that a “dangerous darkness” of racism was descending.