Tributes have been paid to former Shankill councillor Hugh Smyth who died on Monday.
The veteran PUP representative had served the Court ward in the north west of the city for 41 years before standing down in January due to ill health.
A former Lord Mayor, Cllr Smyth was the leader of the PUP until 2002 when he was succeeded by David Ervine. He was awarded the OBE in 1996 for services to the community.
Current PUP leader Billy Hutchinson took over Cllr Smyth’s vacated council seat. He said his party colleague was “a giant of working-class loyalism” who was loved by the people of the Shankill area.
“Hugh made a monumental contribution to the political process in Northern Ireland over the course of the last 40 years. He was a staunch and proud unionist and a pioneer of working-class politics,” he said.
Mr Hutchinson added: “Hugh was fundamental to bringing the loyalist community to the negotiating table and played a central role in strengthening Northern Ireland’s position with the United Kingdom,” and “showed great courage in carrying out his work throughout the years.”
First Minister Peter Robinson described Mr Smyth as someone who “worked tirelessly” for his constituents.
“All those who worked with Hugh will know that his death represents the loss of a strong-willed and independently-minded representative who served the people of Belfast, and particularly the Shankill, for many years,” Mr Robinson said.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said Cllr Smyth was an “assiduous representative” and “one of the great characters”.
The 75-year-old councillor died peacefully at home surrounded by his family.
His nephew Glenn Bradley said of his uncle: “He was my life-long friend who I will terribly miss.”
Recalling one of many amusing moments in his uncle’s political career, Mr Bradley said: “When Niall Ó Donnghaile became Belfast’s youngest Lord Mayor in 2011, Hughie quipped, ‘I’ve coats in my wardrobe older than you’.”
News Letter journalist Billy Kennedy remembers Cllr Smyth’s early days in local politics.
“He was one of the great characters of City Hall. Shughie served alongside the likes of Paddy Devlin and Gerry Fitt and there was always a bit of action when he was about,” said Mr Kennedy.
UUP cllr Dr Chris McGimpsey said he was sad to learn of the PUP man’s death.
“He was a tireless worker for the local community and a hugely popular figure which was evident in the fact that the local people returned him to City Hall as their representative for decades, the pinnacle of which was his term as Lord Mayor. Hugh will be remembered fondly for his hard work and dedication, plus his ready wit and humour, which made him excellent company.
“He will be greatly missed by many, especially on the Shankill and I would like to extend my condolences to his family and many friends,” Cllr McGimpsey said.
Sinn Fein councillor and group leader at Belfast City Hall, Jim McVeigh, has expressed condolences to the Smyth family.
Cllr McVeigh said: “While we may not have always agreed politically we got on well and Hugh was a man who wouldn’t pass you without saying hello.
“I wish on behalf of Sinn Fein to express our condolences to the family and friends of Hugh Smyth.”