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Warm tributes to 'pioneer' McClay

Tributes to entrepreneur Sir Allen McClay have poured in from business leaders and politicians.

Sir Allen, 77, died on Tuesday at the Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia where he had been receiving treatment for cancer.

The multi-millionaire industrialist and philanthropist was chairman of Craigavon-based drugs giant Almac, which employs over 2,000 people.

Almac chief executive Alan Armstrong led the tributes to the company's founder.

"Allen was a father figure to every single Almac employee, he often referred to his Almac family and we all shared that view of the organisation he created. Our sympathy goes to Allen's family and especially his wife Heather," he said.

McClay took his first company Galen Pharmaceuticals public on the London and Dublin stock markets in 1997, establishing the first £1bn company in Northern Ireland and a substantial personal fortune.

He resigned amid plans to move the operation to the US, buying back five divisions in 2002 and establishing Almac in order to save hundreds of jobs in Northern Ireland.

The tycoon was knighted for services to business and charity in 2005 and last year launched the McClay Foundation, to advance cancer research.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, currently the acting First Minister, said: "Whilst Sir Allen's contribution to the economy was immense, we should remember that, first and foremost, he was both a family man and an inspirational mentor to those who worked for Almac."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Northern Ireland had lost 'not only a wonderful businessman but also a true gentleman'.

"Sir Allen McClay was perhaps the most successful businessman we have ever produced," he said.

Invest Northern Ireland chairman Stephen Kingon praised his long-term contribution to economic development. "I had the privilege of knowing and working with Sir Allen since the early 1970s and his personal drive, ambition and visionary leadership was always evident," he said.

SDLP deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell hailed the Almac boss as a pioneer. "Allen was an honest, approachable, unpretentious and exceptionally generous man," he said.

Employment Minister Sir Reg Empey said he had left a lasting legacy through his commitment to ensuring a supply of skilled local graduates in the life and health sciences areas. "I have every faith that this great work will continue."

Joanne Stuart, from the Institute of Directors, said his contribution went beyond just creating jobs.

"He helped demonstrate to the world the quality of the talent that lies in Northern Ireland and so encouraged others to invest here. His contribution to our wider society as a philanthropist set him apart from many others but he was immensely modest about his role," she said.

US special economic envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly said Sir Allen's passing would have an immense impact on the business community, noting he had been one of the first to join the working group set up to support economic links with the US.

"In the brief time he was a member of our working group, he was able to greatly contribute to our initiatives due to his vast wealth of experience."

Ann McGregor from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said it had lost a highly valued member.

"Sir Allen was an excellent role model of successful entrepreneurship focused on innovation and global business," she said.

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