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MLA Michael Copeland moved to tears by support he received as he steps down from Assembly over ill-health

By Rebecca Black

Published 08/09/2015

Warm tributes: Michael Copeland
Warm tributes: Michael Copeland

An outgoing Ulster Unionist MLA said he has been moved to tears by all the support he has received since announcing his resignation.

Michael Copeland has served as an MLA for East Belfast for more than a decade.

Although he temporarily lost his seat in 2007, he was co-opted to replace colleague Reg Empey in 2010 and successfully defended the seat in 2011.

The east Belfast man has been suffering from ill-health for several months, and yesterday morning announced his resignation from the Assembly.

Speaking after the announcement he said the day would remain in his memory until the day he died. "I have been moved to the point of tears, I want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement, east Belfast - both the place and the people who live there are in my blood - and my heart beats to the sound of her drums," he said.

"I never sought to offend or give offence to any other human being but I couldn't be anything other than what I am, human with all the complications that that entails and at heart an Ulster Unionist and a loyalist, neither of those things made me view any citizen who saw themselves as Irish as lesser people."

Looking back over his time as an MLA and a councillor in the former Castlereagh Council, he never thought of himself as a politician.

"I didn't seek power but accepted responsibility and did my best," he said.

"I share memories of burning houses that are now homes, of gunfire and pipe bombs and of a people under pressure who honoured me by allowing me to stand with them in the darkest of days and the longest of nights."

Mr Copeland paid tribute to his staff for all their work. He also confessed that seeing his wife Sonia elected to represent the Titanic ward of east Belfast last year was a moving moment.

"I always got elected last but when my wife Sonia topped the poll in Titanic I was privately moved to tears," he said.

A UUP selection meeting will be held soon to select a member to replace Mr Copeland in the Assembly.

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