Christopher Stalford: political rivals’ praise for ‘tireless’ representative

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Rivals from across the political spectrum have paid tribute to DUP MLA Christopher Stalford following his death aged 39.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said he was shocked and saddened at the news.

“This is absolutely shocking and tragic and shocking news which will be felt by every single person who worked at Stormont,” he said.

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“In addition to his duties as an MLA, Christopher Stalford was a Principal Deputy Speaker and his role was to ensure the smooth running of the business of the Chamber, which he did expertly and with good humour.

Christopher Stalford, who was a South Belfast DUP MLA, has died aged 39Christopher Stalford, who was a South Belfast DUP MLA, has died aged 39
Christopher Stalford, who was a South Belfast DUP MLA, has died aged 39

“I worked with Christopher on many occasions and although we had differing political views we never traded an angry word.

“He was someone I liked, respected and who worked tirelessly for his community and country.

“I know he will be greatly missed not just by his colleagues in his own party but right across the political spectrum.

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“On behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party I would like to extend my deepest and most sincere sympathies to Christopher’s family and many friends and colleagues.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “Words are not adequate to express the shock and deep sadness I feel at the death of Christopher Stalford.

“To his beloved wife Laura and four young children I express sincere Christian sympathy.

“Having known Christopher well since his days working for me, when I served as an MEP, I retained friendship and respect for him and his undoubted ability – ability which unionism can ill afford to lose.”

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Mr Allister added: “I also express sympathy to his party which he served with loyalty and distinction. His colleagues in the Assembly and elsewhere will feel an aching void, though it is his family who above all require the prayers and support of us all.”

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill has also extended her condonlences.

She said: “On behalf of the Sinn Féin Assembly team I extended my condolences and expressed my sincere sadness to the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson on the sudden passing of his party colleague and Assembly member, Christopher Stalford.

“His wife Laura and their four children are foremost in our thoughts and prayers this morning as they grieve the heartbreaking loss of a husband and father.

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“We have worked with Christopher over many years since he entered political life first as a city councillor, and then Assembly member for South Belfast.

Alliance Leader Naomi Long said it was “hard to put into words” her shock, sadness and devastation at the news, and added: “Despite our politics often being radically different, Christopher and I had a warm personal friendship, with him often talking to me about his pride in his family.

“Christopher was High Sheriff at Belfast City Council while I was Lord Mayor, and we carried that close relationship throughout the rest of our political careers. Just this week, we discussed his eldest child’s school transfer and it is difficult to put into words my shock, sadness and devastation just days later we are discussing his passing.

“He was a genuine and funny person, who was dedicated to public service. Christopher revelled in the role of Principal Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, carrying out his duties in an even-handed and fair manner, no matter the situation.”

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Mrs Long added: “My thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies are with Christopher’s wife Laura, his four children, the wider family circle and his party colleagues.

“His friends and colleagues throughout the world of politics will miss his political contribution, and his constituents his local efforts and leadership across South Belfast.”

• North Antrim MP Ian Paisley has paid his own tribute to Christopher Stalford – a DUP colleague he described as “colourful and full of fun”.

Mr Paisley said: “To Laura and his lovely wee family I express my prayers and deepest condolences and pray God will comfort them in this valley of tears.

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“Christopher was a young energetic and enthusiastic member of the party from before his days at Queens University where he become very actively involved in politics.

“On meeting Christopher in those days It was inevitable that he would make a life in political service. He just loved politics and engagement with the public and he was an excellent barometer of where public opinion within unionism rested.”

He said a “shadow of loss” hangs over the party.

Mr Paisley added: “He rose very quickly through the ranks of the party achieving electoral success and ultimately making the South Belfast assembly seat his own. He was cut out for the deputy speaker role and would have no doubt climbed to higher office.

“I last spoke to Chris in the middle of the past week after his appearance on the media. I had congratulated him for keeping his composure. Always colourful and full of fun Chris thanked me and chatted about some of the issues ahead of us. I had been with him for a more detailed meeting just a few weeks ago. Today a shadow of loss hangs over our party.”

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