Northern Ireland news

Arlene Foster will miss Jimmy Spratt's ‘quiet, determined support'

Former DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt has died
Rebecca Black, PA

First Minister Arlene Foster has paid an emotional tribute to her former colleague Jimmy Spratt, who died this morning.

The DUP leader was visibly upset as she opened the weekly Executive press conference on Covid-19 in Dungannon alongside Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

She said every week they paid tribute to those who had died with coronavirus, but that she would like to also speak about Mr Spratt.

“When devolution returned to Northern Ireland in 2007 after the St Andrew’s Agreement, I sat beside Jimmy in that now famous photograph in the Long Gallery when Dr Paisley sat down with the leadership of Sinn Féin for the first time,” she said.

“I mention that because Jimmy, like me, believed very much in building a shared future.

“He wanted everyone here to feel at home in Northern Ireland, and he wanted to make devolution work, and he never shied away from the challenge of trying to keep Northern Ireland moving in the right direction.

“And I just wanted to acknowledge that today. I will miss him and his quiet, determined support but it was comforting for me and my DUP colleagues that the comments of ministers from all of the others parties today at our Executive meeting reflected Jimmy’s qualities, and the contribution that he had made to politics here in Northern Ireland.”

Ms O’Neill also paid tribute to Mr Spratt from the podium on the Hill of the O’Neill, and described him as “a character”.

Mr Spratt, 69, had previously served as a police officer and as chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland.

Earlier, Mrs Foster recalled her last conversation with her “dear friend and colleague”, saying although they recognised it may be the last time they spoke, she said he spoke “so touchingly about the tough days ahead for his family rather than him”.

“His focus was on Lynda and the children,” she said.

Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey recalled working with Mr Spratt in their South Belfast constituency and at Stormont.

“Despite our obvious opposing political perspectives, I had great respect for Jimmy as we developed a friendship and a strong working relationship,” he said.

“He was a straight talker who would always leave you in no doubt as to where he stood, but you could always do business with him and he was committed to making the Assembly work.

“The fact that he spoke so openly about his recent health issues demonstrated that he remained a fighter even when seriously ill and I know many people admired him for that.

“I know I speak for the Assembly in expressing our sympathies to his wife Lynda and his four sons.”

Ulster Unionist Party chairman Danny Kennedy expressed his sympathies to Mr Spratt’s family.

“He was a dedicated public representative, having had a long and successful career in policing beforehand,” he said.

“I liked and respected him and offer my sincere sympathy to his wife, sons and family circle at this sad and difficult time.”

Mr Spratt was remembered by Doug Garrett, current chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, at the start of its public meeting on Thursday.

PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne also expressed his condolences to Mr Spratt’s family at the start of his address to the board.

Mr Spratt chaired the Police Federation until his retirement from the police service in 2002.

A political career with the DUP followed, starting as a councillor with the former Castlereagh Borough Council, and later becoming MLA for South Belfast in 2007.

He stepped aside due to ill health in 2015.

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