Tributes paid to ex-Ulster and Ireland rugby international David Tweed

Tributes have been paid to former Ulster and Ireland rugby international David Tweed, who has died in a road crash in Co Antrim.

The crash happened on Whitepark Road close to Dunseverick on the north coast on Thursday, at around 4.30pm.

Mr Tweed, who was riding a motorbike, is understood to have died at the scene.

The 61-year-old father-of-four played for Ulster and won four Ireland caps, making his debut against France in the 1995 Five Nations and in the process becoming Ireland’s oldest debutant.

David Tweed with Rev Ian Paisley

His staunch unionist views made the outspoken player a divisive and controversial presence for Irish fans.

An Orangeman, Mr Tweed entered politics with the Rev Ian Paisley’s DUP after his lodge LOL 496 was prevented from marching through Dunloy – a village between Ballymena and Ballymoney – during the mid-1990s.

He was a key figure during the Harryville dispute in Ballymena, where loyalists picketed a Catholic church in response to nationalist objections to the Dunloy parade.

Mr Tweed left the DUP in 2007, in protest at the party’s decision to share power with Sinn Fein.

He later joined Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice.

He had been convicted in 2011 of child sex abuse.

But in 2016 his convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in Belfast.

He was then released from prison, where he had been serving an eight-year sentence.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said: “The one-time leading Ulster and Ireland rugby star, political activist, elected official and leading Orangeman David was a well-known Ulsterman.

“To his family I send my condolences and heartfelt prayers at what must be an unimaginably heartbreaking time for them.

“I pray God will comfort them and give them peace at their point of need.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “Davy, a larger than life character, was widely known across North Antrim and further afield.

“His family is deeply rooted and respected in the Ballymoney / Dunloy community.

“This is a devastating blow to his family and wide circle of friends.

“I wish to express my deepest sympathy to his grieving family at this very difficult time.”

DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said: “I have known Davy and his family most of my life and cannot begin to imagine the sorrow his family have been plunged into.

“Just on Sunday past he sat in front of me in church.

“He was a larger-than-life character – and not just only in his physical presence.”