Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Stormont tributes over farm tragedy

Flowers are laid at Ravenhill Grounds in memory of young rugby star Nevin Spence, who died when he fell into a slurry pit

Stormont politicians have united to offer words of sympathy and support for the grief-stricken Spence family.

Tributes were led by Health Minister Edwin Poots, who fought back tears as he said he had known the family for 30 years. He said the death of Noel Spence and his sons, Graham and Nevin, had thrown the family into grief, and had stunned friends and neighbours of a family who had farmed their land at Hillsborough for generations.

Mr Poots spoke of attending other bereaved households, when the natural death of an older person might allow those in grief to rationalise their loss, but he said the Spence household was in shock at the tragedy that has gripped them.

"It was just a very, very quiet house as a consequence of the death of the three men of the house," the Democratic Unionist said. "The Spence family have been farming in this area for five generations. And the community have come to know and love them.

"There are two things that I suppose have given them some crumbs of comfort. Firstly, Emma - who was rescued by some of the local farmers who were quickly on the scene, and then supported very ably by the ambulance service, the fire service and police service - is home from hospital and is going to make a full recovery, certainly physically.

"The second thing is that the Spences have a very strong personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Noel, Graham and Nevin had all sought Jesus Christ as their own personal saviour and, as a result of that, the family believes that it will be reunited - has absolute confidence that it will be reunited once again in a place where there is no more pain, no more sorrow, or no more tears."

Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said she could only imagine the impact of such a huge tragedy on the Spence family. She extended her condolences, and raised the need to prioritise farm safety to tackle the dangers faced by those working in the industry.

Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea said it was difficult to know what to say in the face of such bereavement, and highlighted the sheer disbelief felt at the scale of the loss carried by the Spence family. He extended his party's thoughts and prayers to them.

Leader of the nationalist SDLP Alasdair McDonnell reflected on how in a matter of moments the work of life on a farm could turn to tragedy. He also passed his party's condolences to the family and recalled how his own children had met rugby star Nevin Spence and were grief-stricken at news of his death. Mr McDonnell said he therefore appreciated how the sports star had also touched lives off the pitch, adding: "That is how far his reach went."

Spokesmen for the Green Party and the Alliance Party, plus Traditional Unionist Jim Allister, all added their words of support and comfort for the family. Amid a sombre mood in the Stormont debating chamber, Mr Allister said that if the deaths had caused such shock amid MLAs, "Then we can only imagine the depth of devastation of the Spence family."

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