Tributes have been paid to UUP Environment Minister Sam Foster who died this morning.
The 82-year-old who represented Fermanagh in the assembly was a former chairman of Fermanagh District Council and served as a major in the Ulster Defence Regiment.
Ulster Unionist Party Leader Mike Nesbitt said he was “deeply sorry to learn of the passing of Sam Foster”.
“Sam Foster was a huge figure in Fermanagh Unionism,” he said.
“It is a mark of Sam that he was able to gain the respect of political friend and foe alike. He never held personal grudges and sought to find agreement rather than create strife.
“He rose to high office but never forgot his roots and always remained at heart a Fermanagh man.
“Sam was the living embodiment of a loyal Ulster Unionist who served his Country and his Party faithfully for many decades and was held in the highest of esteem by all.
“He served his country as a B Special and then as a Major in the Ulster Defence Regiment and pursued a career as a social worker.
“He was elected to Fermanagh District Council in 1981 and served 20 years, including a spell as Chairman.
“In 1998 he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly and served as Environment Minister between 1999 and 2002.
“I am proud to have known such a great Unionist and Ulsterman and will be forever grateful for the generous support he gave when I joined the Ulster Unionist Party.
“My deepest condolences go out to his wife Dorothy and his family circle. He will indeed be sadly missed.”
Ulster Unionist MLA for Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Tom Elliott, also paid tribute to his “loyal friend and colleague”.
He said: “I have been a party colleague of Sam Foster`s for over two decades. I will remember Sam as a very loyal and true friend to his country and the people of Fermanagh, to the Ulster Unionist Party and to me personally.
“He was dedicated to his work - you only have to ask anyone who worked in a Department or Agency to acknowledge his craft as a politician and as a constituency representative. His same masterly work was evident as one of the Ministers in the newly formed Northern Ireland Executive following the 1998 Belfast Agreement, where he was competent and enthusiastic in that role, during very challenging times and when confronted by aggressive opposition.”
Mr Elliott added that Mr Foster was “very active in many other aspects of life including his roles within the education sector, as a Social Worker and rose to the rank of Major within the Ulster Defence Regiment in what were very difficult times during the Troubles, when many of his colleagues and friends in the Fermanagh community were being murdered by terrorists”.
“He was also caught up in the IRA`s notorious 1987 Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb and assisted with the rescue operation,” said Mr Elliott.
“The Orange Order and Royal Black Institution benefitted from Sam`s knowledge and experience where he took very active and prominent roles.”
UKIP’s leader in Northern Ireland, David McNarry, also told of his sadness at news of the passing of Mr Foster.
“I am saddened by the news of Sam Foster’s passing,” he said. “He was an old-style Fermanagh unionist and represented all that was best in unionism. He was an esteemed colleague of mine for many years and was always a good friend. He was a man of integrity, good nature and kindness. We are all the poorer for his passing. My condolences go to his grieving family.”