David McClarty funeral: Politicians unite in farewell to 'Stormont's most popular MLA'
Independent unionist MLA David McClarty was remembered at his funeral in Coleraine yesterday as a talented raconteur and someone who was most fulfilled when he was helping others
Around 1,000 people followed the funeral cortege or packed into the service at Killowen Parish Church to hear Rev Donard Collins, the rector, pay tribute to a popular parishioner.
Outside, Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, was among those who signed the book of condolence for the East Londonderry politician.
The Sinn Fein leader described him as a "very progressive politician who developed positive relationships with everyone he met".
Other prominent mourners came from across the political spectrum.
They included UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and former leader Lord Empey, East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell and TUV leader Jim Allister.
In his address, Rev Collins said of Mr McClarty: "He was talented, he was a raconteur, he made people laugh on stage, he sang in the parish choir for all of his life. He kept them sane in Stormont, he was in company with Her Majesty the Queen, and yet he was open to deal with anyone."
The clergyman continued: "He was most happy with people who needed help and he found fulfilment with that."
Mr McClarty died last Friday after being diagnosed with cancer some time ago.
Prior to his illness he had been courted by Alliance, NI21 and his former Ulster Unionist Party, but although he said he supported the general approach of NI21, he had turned down all overtures.
Mr McClarty had been politically active since he was first elected to Coleraine Borough Council in 1989.
He served as mayor between 1993 and 1995.
He was elected to the Assembly in 1998 as an Ulster Unionist. He was one of the party's longest serving MLAs before he resigned from it in 2011 following a fractious reselection battle.
The local party machine rejected him in favour of running two new candidates.
In the event, Mr McClarty was elected as an independent, and both of the UUP candidates were defeated.
It was a bitter blow to the UUP, which lost one of its two ministries as a result of the reduction in seats.
At one stage he said he might run again for the Ulster Unionists if Mike Nesbitt were elected leader.
However, he became disillusioned with his former party when it agreed a joint candidate with the DUP in the Mid Ulster by-election.
Two other UUP MLAs, Basil McCrea and John McCallister, left when the decision was announced, and it seemed for a time as if Mr McClarty would throw in his lot with them.
He will be remembered as one of the leading moderates in Northern Ireland politics and, as Mr Nesbitt put it, "probably the most popular MLA at Stormont".