Belfast Telegraph

Assembly member loses cancer battle

The independent unionist Northern Ireland assembly member David McClarty has died.

The 63-year-old from Coleraine was treated for cancer. Friends and colleagues said he was a moderate voice of principle.

The East Londonderry MLA left the Ulster Unionist Party in 2011 after being de-selected as a candidate for that year's assembly election.

UUP chairman and peer Lord Reg Empey said: "At all times David was a real gentleman in politics; he managed to combine sincere beliefs with a great sense of humour and was slow to make political enemies, which says a lot about him."

He had been one of the UUP's longest serving Stormont MLAs, first elected in 1998 after the Good Friday Agreement which mandated power-sharing.

He was one of the assembly's deputy speakers from 2007 to 2011.

Lord Empey added: "The past year has been a real struggle for David and his family, and I was always touched by his great optimism and fortitude even when he knew the odds were against him.

"He was always willing to put his views forward in a fearless manner, but did so in a way that did not add hurt or injury to many inflamed situations.

"David is a great loss to Northern Ireland politics."

He had said he was considering standing for the UUP again at the next elections.

During a Belfast Telegraph interview in 2012 he said he was a strong opponent of unionist unity, for example between the UUP and Democratic Unionists, which he believed could contribute to sectarianism.

"If there is unionist unity does it mean that nationalists and republicans should unite too?

"That would perpetuate the 'them and us' scenario and is the last thing Northern Ireland needs."

He also favoured an opposition at Stormont but felt that the UUP should negotiate one rather than withdrawing from the five-party Executive with no guarantees.

"A fully funded opposition makes for a much better Government and a much better democracy," he added.

East Londonderry SDLP MLA John Dallat said he left a legacy of hope.

"There is no more warm and affable man in politics today.

"David leaves behind a legacy of good will and a shining example of how communities can work and live together.

"His ability to work with every political party and every shade of political opinion made him a beacon of hope for a future that's inclusive of everyone."

Ukip Northern Ireland leader and former UUP colleague David McNarry said he was a man of principle.

"I will miss his humour and kindness. He was a true moderate unionist and a gentleman and an able public representative. My sympathy goes to his family. The assembly will be a poorer place without him."

Mr McClarty studied English and the classics at the University of Ulster's Magee campus before taking up a career in insurance.

Married to Norma with two sons, he was part of a church choir and an amateur actor, regularly performing with the cross-community Ballywillan drama group in Portrush. The society was in the process of auditioning for parts in Hairspray, a Broadway musical about the 1960s in the US.

The parishioner at Killowen Church in Coleraine had been a member of the church choir since the age of 10.

He also enthusiastically supported Coleraine FC.

Returning golf's Irish Open to Portrush and the rights of vehicle licensing workers in Coleraine faced with losing their jobs were among political causes he espoused.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "David was probably the most popular MLA in Stormont, a man whose company I always enjoyed.

"He was always a positive, progressive thinker and I am sorry that I didn't get the opportunity to work with him as a party colleague in the Ulster Unionist assembly group."

Speaker of the assembly William Hay said all members felt sorrowful for the former deputy speaker.

"David was extremely able and determined fighter for all he believed in but he combined it with a brilliant wit which enabled him to develop friendships on all sides of the house.

"I will particularly miss that sense of humour and the assembly will miss a true parliamentarian."

First Minister Peter Robinson said Mr McClarty worked tirelessly for his constituents.

"He was a man of great decency, honour and integrity."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Mr McClarty was respected by all.

He said: "David was a very progressive politician who developed positive relationships with everyone he met. He was the deputy speaker between 2007 - 2011 a role he carried out with distinction."

A statement from the drama group said it was with extreme sadness that members learned of the death of their friend.

"David will be remembered always as a true gentleman, with a tremendous sense of humour.

"On behalf of the committee, members and friends of BDG, we extend our sincere sympathy and condolences to Norma, Alan, Colin and the entire McClarty family."

Robert Ramsey, who acted with him as part of a comedy duo, said they compered shows up and down the country.

"Such an iconic character, David to me epitomised all a human being should be.

"He entertained the masses. He was a funny man in his own right. He may be gone but he will never be forgotten."

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