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'A great ambassador for NI'; tributes to Norman Houston

Popular diplomat a 'consummate professional' who served under four US presidents

The First and Deputy First Ministers have led tributes to Norman Houston - Northern Ireland's former representative in Washington DC - after his death, describing the diplomat as a "true ambassador" for Northern Ireland.

Mr Houston had been Northern Ireland's main representative in the US before he stepped down from the role in 2019, following 12 years of service.

The former Larne High School pupil worked with US presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump during his tenure. He is survived by his children Chloe and Connor.

Arlene Foster said yesterday she was shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news.

"It is devastating for Norman's family and his many friends and colleagues both here in Northern Ireland and in the United States," she said.

Mr Houston was a "consummate professional", she added.

"Throughout his time as Director of the Washington Bureau he made an enormous contribution to promoting Northern Ireland on a global stage and I was privileged to work with him over many years.

"Norman's hard work, dedication and infectious personality helped to build many important relationships, which have benefited countless people. We will miss him greatly," she said. Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said Mr Houston's contribution to developing Northern Ireland's relationship with the United States was "immeasurable".

"He was an excellent diplomat. He had an unforgettable presence and his name was known far and wide throughout the city and beyond.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Norman's family at this very sad time. We think especially of his daughter Chloe and son Connor. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

DUP MP Ian Paisley knew Mr Houston for more than two decades.

"As Junior Minister I appointed him to his role as NI representative in Washington DC. This was a role that was made for him. He served Northern Ireland with distinction for 15 years in that position.

"In reality he had access to the White House and the Hill that many national representative offices were jealous of.

"He was our man in America and he did more to promote Northern Ireland there than anyone else. His like will not be seen again," he said.

"Like many I am shocked by the sudden nature of his passing and I can only hope that his family find comfort in the very many happy memories they have."

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said news of Mr Houston's death was "incredibly sad".

"I knew Norman as Mr Northern Ireland in America. He was known, respected and very fondly thought of across the United States," he said.

"This is a great loss and we would like to pass on our condolences to his family and friends."

Staff at the NI Bureau, which is the diplomatic mission of the NI Executive in the United States and Canada, said they were heartbroken.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Mr Houston as a "top class public servant".

Sean Farren, Chair of the John and Pat Hume Foundation said he "deeply regretted" Mr Houston's passing.

"Many members of the Hume Foundation Board, including myself, would have been warmly welcomed to DC by Norman. He was a well-liked and generous person who served with great distinction in the NI Bureau for 15 years.

"On behalf of the John and Pat Hume Foundation, I wish to send our sincere condolences to his children, wider family and friends."

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey said: "Norman was an unassuming but highly effective representative for Northern Ireland in Washington DC. He'll be sadly missed."

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley said he was "saddened" by the news.

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt said he was "devastated" to hear of Mr Houston's death after he acted as Northern Ireland's presence in Washington successfully for so many years.

"Norman was well known and well respected in Capitol Hill and the White House. He was the ultimate professional who could make you feel you were the most important person in the room."

CEO of the WAVE Trauma Centre Sandra Peake described Mr Houston as "a true friend" to the organisation, who was hugely supportive in his role in the US.

"He was highly regarded at every level of successive administrations in Washington and because of that was able to open doors to get access for victims and survivors to key players," said Ms Peake.

"As well as being a dedicated public servant, Norman was a man of real compassion and kindness, of constant good humour and was great company."

Viewpoint, Page 28

Belfast Telegraph