John Dallat, MLA for East Londonderry, has died aged 73, the SDLP has announced.
Mr Dallat was first elected to the NI Assembly in 1998, but had also served on the Coleraine Borough Council during his career in politics
Last year the MLA was diagnosed with cancer, and whilst still working as an MLA, received treatment.
Party Leader of the SDLP, Mr Column Eastwood paid tribute to Mr Dallat, saying:
“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.
“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.
“As a public representative, John struck fear into the heart of anyone who dared misspend a penny of public money. His forensic skill as a member of the Public Accounts Committee may not have won him many friends in the higher levels of the public sector but it won him respect across political lines. It was a respect he maintained with a fair hand as Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.
“Even retirement couldn’t stop him and I’m glad that he came back to the SDLP Assembly team in 2017. We will miss his infectious laugh and his deep experience.
“My thoughts, and the thoughts of everyone in the SDLP, are with his wife Anne, his children Helena, Ronan, Diarmuid and his eight grandchildren. 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.”