SDLP MLA John Dallat dies
The death has been announced of SDLP East Derry MLA John Dallat.
In a statement released this afternoon the party said Mr Dallat, who was first elected to the assembly in 1998 and served as a deputy speaker for nine years, died "after a period of illness."
He was 73-years-old.
Mr Dallat began his political career in 1977 when he was elected to serve on Coleraine Council.
He went on to become the first nationalist mayor of the town in 2001.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “John Dallat lived and breathed to serve others.
“For over 45 years he was the most loyal servant to the people of East Derry and a fierce friend to everyone in the SDLP. I know I speak for everyone in the party when I say his good humour and wise advice will be sorely missed.
Today we lost a loyal friend and a good man. John Dallat lived and breathed to serve others. He took immense pride in representing the people of East Derry for over 45 years and we were so proud of him.— Colum Eastwood (@columeastwood) May 5, 2020
Our thoughts and prayers are with Anne & his family. https://t.co/7HwDNGqbav
“John entered public life at a time and in a place when it was difficult to be an SDLP representative. I know that, despite his tough exterior, he was often hurt when the hand of friendship he extended across the sectarian divide in the late 70s and early 80s in Coleraine Council wasn't always accepted. But it never stopped him trying and only strengthened his lifelong resolve to oppose violence and its supporters.
Mr Eastwood said Mr Dallat's "infectious laugh and his deep experience" would be missed.
“My thoughts, and the thoughts of everyone in the SDLP, are with his wife Anne, his children Helena, Ronan, Diarmuid and his eight grandchildren," he said.
"John’s family meant everything to him. We’re thinking of them at this difficult time and I hope they are comforted by the knowledge that he made an immeasurable difference."
John Hume's wife Pat also paid tribute to Mr Dallat.
Mrs Hume said: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of John Dallat.
“John Dallat was a loyal friend to John and I for many years. In addition, he was a loyal and faithful servant to the SDLP and the ideals for which the party stood for. He was SDLP to the core.”
“During a distinguished political career, he was always on the side of the underdog, defending those who were disadvantaged and standing strong against violence, sectarianism and unfairness in society.”
“In difficult times, John never flinched in doing what was right for his community and his country. He was a first-class public representative.”
“Above all, John was a loving family man – devoted to his wife Anne, their children and grandchildren to whom I send my sincere condolences.”
Stormont deputy speaker Roy Beggs (UUP) paid tribute to Mr Dallat in the chamber, adding that the assembly will pay formal tributes to him and his family next week.
Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald said all were shocked to learn of his death and said her thoughts and condolences are with his family.
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw tweeted that Mr Dallat was a "hard-working MLA, who was at all times warm and engaging".