The First and Deputy First Ministers led tributes to the MLA David McClarty, who died on Friday morning after battling cancer for more than a year.
The 63-year-old father of two, spent most of his political life in the Ulster Unionist Party before leaving after the party deselected him in 2011. He then stood as an independent topping the polls, and went on to win a seat at the expense of his former party.
Mr McClarty, who used social media regularly, last posted on his Facebook page last Tuesday to say that he was “delighted to propose Claire Sugden, his Stormont assistance who succeeded him when he left the council, as the first ever candidate for the new Causeway Coast and Glens Council for Coleraine
Mr McClarty’s funeral will place today (Tuesday) at noon from Killowen Parish Church, of which he was a long and committed member.
The First Minister, Peter Robinson said: “David was a highly respected member of the Assembly and he will be greatly missed. He was one of our longest serving MLAs and worked tirelessly to help all of those he served.
“He was a man of great decency, honour and integrity. I extend my sincere condolences to his family, colleagues and his many friends.”
The deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “ We have been concerned about David’s health for some time and it was with great sadness I learned of his passing. His family and friends are in my thoughts and prayers.
“David was a very progressive politician who developed positive relationships with everyone he met. He was the deputy speaker between 2007 - 2011 a role he carried out with distinction. David was a gentleman who was greatly respected by all.”
Mayor of Coleraine, UUP councillor David Harding added: “A great sadness has fallen on the Borough with the passing of David McClarty.
“David had been a real gentleman and a tireless worker for the people of the Borough and on behalf of Council, I would like to extend condolences and heartfelt sympathies to David’s wife, Norma and to his family.”
Assembly Speaker Willie Hay said: “I know I speak on behalf of all members of the Assembly when I say that the loss of David McClarty is a cause of heartfelt sorrow among all of us.”
The Electoral Office said that Mr McClarty had left a list of nominees to fill his seat as an independent MLA in the event of his death. The Electoral Office said that once it was formally notified of his death by the Assembly Speaker, it would begin contacting those on the list.
The Coleraine division of the UUP said it was “deeply saddened at the untimely death of David McClarty MLA” and described him as “a man of the people; highly respected by all sections of the community”.