Tributes have been paid from across the political spectrum to former Northern Ireland Office minister Paul Goggins, hailed yesterday as a gentleman of integrity and grace.
Mr Goggins, 60, died yesterday, a week after collapsing while jogging with his son.
Born in Manchester in 1953, his Roman Catholic faith played an important part in his upbringing, developing in him what he described as “a strong sense of connection between faith and politics”. He trained as a social worker before going on to become the director of Church Action on Poverty, a church-based campaigning organisation.
He was elected as a Labour MP in 1997 and by 2006 was appointed Minister in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) with responsibility for Health, Security and Prisons.
The year after he was promoted to Minister of State for Northern Ireland. He was also secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty.
All Northern Ireland’s political parties yesterday expressed sympathy to his wife, Wyn, and children, Matthew, Theresa and Dominic.
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson MLA said: “My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Wyn and family at this very sad time. Paul was a man of integrity, warmth and decency. He had a great ability to work with people in Northern Ireland.
“Without doubt Paul was a genuine friend of Northern Ireland and his work contributed to achieving the settlement secured for the Province. I had the privilege of working with him in the House of Commons and counted him as a friend as well as a Parliamentary colleague.
“He was widely respected by all those who knew him and he will be remembered with great affection and as a true friend to many.”
Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge Drew Nelson said the Order worked closely with Mr Goggins during his tenure as Minister of State and always found him “one of the most constructive and understanding elected representatives to work with.
“Paul was a very hard working minister and a man of great integrity, who was 100 per cent committed to doing his best for all the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.
His death is a grave loss to British and Northern Ireland politics, he added.
Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein MLA Martin McGuinness said: “I always found him to be a genuine man with a real interest in our issues.
“Paul worked hard with all the parties in what was a challenging time in our history. Paul was highly regarded by all those who worked with him, from right across the political spectrum, and his death is a great loss to the political arena and to his beloved family and many friends.”
UUP MLA and former health minister Michael McGimpsey, who took over the health portfolio from Mr Goggins, said he had enjoyed a warm working relationship with the Labour MP.
“He took a keen and genuine interest in our people, introducing a number of important initiatives including Protect Life and the smoking ban,” he said.
“I always found him to be a really sincere individual and a politician who was committed to serving all of the people.”
Alliance leader and Justice Minister David Ford said Mr Goggins “worked tirelessly to ensure that the justice system was ready for devolution and was generous with his time to me as incoming minister”.
Mr Goggins phoned Mr Ford one year after devolution, offering congratulations on progress made. “Paul was a gentleman in every sense, who cared about the people he worked with and those he represented,” he added.
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said that Mr Goggins made “a huge contribution to solidifying the peace process”.
“I had the privilege of knowing Paul as a colleague, a wise counsellor and a friend.
“Aside from his outstanding ability as a minister in Northern Ireland, everyone who knew him will attest to his tremendous personal humility and deep compassion for those on the margins of society. A man of great faith, his first concern was always for the vulnerable.”