Christopher Stalford: MLAs from across the Assembly pay tribute to DUP man and principal deputy speaker after sudden death

MLAs from across the political spectrum have paid tribute at Stormont to DUP politician Christopher Stalford, following his sudden death at the age of 39.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 21st February 2022, 1:06 pm
Updated Monday, 21st February 2022, 8:10 pm

Mr Stalford was principal deputy speaker at Stormont, having been an MLA since 2016, having served previously as a councillor, high sheriff of Belfast and deputy mayor.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said today that Christopher Stalford’s family and children were “at the heart of everything he did”.

She told the Assembly: “We had very difficult political backgrounds and very different political views, but we had a lot in common.

Tributes were paid in the Northern Ireland Assembly for DUP MLA and Deputy Speaker Christopher Stalford. The 39-year-old, who represented south Belfast since 2016, passed away suddenly at the weekend. DUP MLA colleagues make their way into the Assembly Chamber where tributes were paid. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

“We were both fiercely proud of coming from working-class backgrounds, we both had a passion for the communities we grew up in which drove us into politics, and we both believed passionately that education was the route to lift people permanently out of disadvantage.

“Despite the fact that we were opponents, we were also friends.”

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said it was a very sombre day for the Stormont Assembly, but particularly the DUP.

She recalled Christopher Stalford as “challenging, argumentative, ambitious, combative during debates”, but also “kind, quick-witted, fiercely intelligent and very, very funny”.

File photo dated 24/06/16 of DUP MLA for Belfast South, Christopher Stalford, at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, for the counting of votes cast in the EU referendum. DUP MLA Christopher Stalford has died, party leader Jeffrey Donaldson has confirmed. Issue date: Sunday February 20, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story DEATH Stalford . Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

“Christopher Stalford was unique, he loved politics, he loved being a public representative, he enjoyed the cut and thrust of debate more than I would say any other member of this House,” she said.

Ms Mallon said the love Mr Stalford had for his family “radiated off him”.

“We all feel a sense of loss today but the loss of a young husband and father will be felt most acutely by those he loved the most,” she said.

“I hope that they can take comfort from the incredible legacy that Christopher leaves behind, the warmest regard in which his colleagues from every political tradition held him and the real difference he made to so many people’s lives.”

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said the news of the death of Christopher Stalford had literally taken his breath away.

Mr Beattie told the Stormont Assembly: “I have no adequate words, I have no words which will quench the anguish of his party colleagues sitting here today.

“I have no words that will help with the pain that his family is dealing with.

“Christopher was unique, he was a fierce debater and he had a cracking wit.

“He was totally immersed in politics, there was none like him.

“But he was also a father, a husband, a son, and every interaction I ever had with Christopher, that is what came out in spades.”

Paula Bradley said Christopher Stalford always remained proud of his working-class roots.

She told the Assembly: “In life people are born to take certain paths and Christopher was born to be a public representative, a duty he discharged with unwavering diligence, dedication and devotion.

“Christopher’s joy came not in holding office but in how he could use that office to improve the everyday lives of those he was honoured to represent.

“As a proud working-class man Christopher championed the causes and the issues that mattered most to his constituents.

“Let us all strive to honour his memory by working together to achieve that future that Christopher dedicated his career to advancing.

“It is hard to imagine these benches and this party without Christopher.”

Speaking first for her party, Sinn Fein MLA Deirdre Hargey said sadness had fallen on the chamber and extended her condolences to the family of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford following his sudden death.

“No words can describe the shock, anguish, pain they must be feeling now in the loss of their daddy, their husband and their son,” she told MLAs.

She said despite the young age of Mr Stalford, members of her party had known him for a long time, stretching back to university debates, adding that she had known him for over a decade from their days as councillors at Belfast City Hall.

“He was a passionate unionist and would be determined in defending his position on the street and in any of the political chambers that he sat,” she said.

“Whilst our politics differed, we shared similarities, growing up in working-class communities in south Belfast. He came from Annadale, and I from just across the Lagan in the Market area. Like me, he often spoke with pride of the community that he came from.”

DUP deputy leader Paula Bradley wiped away tears as she paid tribute to Christopher Stalford at Stormont.

She told the Assembly: “Words cannot adequately describe the sense of pain and loss which is felt on these benches for a man that meant so much to so many of us.

“Nothing meant more to Christopher than his family. The pride and joy he felt for them was evident in every conversation he had.

“No-one will feel the loss of Christopher more than his family and I trust and pray that God will draw near to them at this time of unimaginable heartbreak.”

Stormont speaker Alex Maskey said the shock at the death of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford had led to a deep sense of sadness across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland.

Opening a session of the Stormont Assembly, Mr Maskey said: “It is my very sad duty to stand here today to express condolences on the passing of our friend and colleague, the principal deputy speaker Christopher Stalford.

“None of us would have ever imagined we would be here today in these circumstances for a member who had so much more to give.

“I want to acknowledge the shock that yesterday’s news has brought collectively across the whole Assembly.

“As principal deputy speaker Christopher had a close working relationship with a number of Assembly officials.

“While we came from opposite perspectives we built up a very positive working relationship.

“In many ways Christopher was an older head on young shoulders.

“Christopher undoubtedly enjoyed the role of principal deputy speaker and it is no secret that he had high hopes of eventually becoming the speaker himself.”

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