Political leaders from across Northern Ireland have paid tributes to SDLP MLA John Dallat following his death at the age of 73.
Party leader, Colum Eastwood MP said East Londonderry MLA Mr Dallat was a "fierce and forensic" champion of people and the public interest as well as a good and loyal man.
Mr Eastwood said that John will be remembered for his defence of the public purse and his famous good humour.
“John Dallat lived and breathed to serve others," he said.
“For over 45 years he was the most loyal servant to the people of East Derry and a fierce friend to everyone in the SDLP. I know I speak for everyone in the party when I say his good humour and wise advice will be sorely missed.
“John entered public life at a time and in a place when it was difficult to be an SDLP representative. I know that, despite his tough exterior, he was often hurt when the hand of friendship he extended across the sectarian divide in the late 70s and early 80s on Coleraine Council wasn't always accepted.
"But it never stopped him trying and only strengthened his lifelong resolve to oppose violence and its supporters."
John struck fear into the heart of anyone who dared misspend a penny of public money.Colum Eastwood
Mr Dallat was a teacher before entering public life as a councillor. He was elected to the Assembly for the first time in 1998.
He served as deputy speaker between 2007 and 2016 before taking a brief retirement before again standing for re-election.
We came from very different political outlooks but he was always to the fore in speaking up for his constituents.Arlene Foster
He had been diagnosed with cancer last year and had undergone treatment while working as an Assembly member.
First Minister Arlene Foster added: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of John Dallat. We came from very different political outlooks but he was always to the fore in speaking up for his constituents.
"We send our sympathies to his family and colleagues in the SDLP at this very sad time.”
I am very sorry to learn of the passing of @SDLPlive MLA John Dallat.— Michelle OâNeill (@moneillsf) May 5, 2020
I always found John a pleasant and witty man.
My thoughts are with his wife Anne, their children, wider family circle and colleagues in the SDLP at this very difficult time.
Ar dheis DÃ© go raibh a anam
Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey described former Deputy Speaker Mr Dallat as a "fearless elected representative".
The Sinn Fein MLA said: "John’s determination, passion and his sense of humour were evident through all his roles in the Assembly, including as a Deputy Speaker and a longstanding Member of the Public Accounts Committee. Our thoughts today are with John’s wife Anne, his children Helena, Ronan, Diarmuid and his grandchildren.
"I will be making arrangements for the formal expression of condolences to John at next week’s sitting of the Assembly."
Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said Mr Dallat's length of service in Coleraine Borough Council and in the Assembly was a remarkable tribute.
"On behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party I would like to send my condolences to his wife and family, and to all his friends and colleagues, both in the SDLP and in other political parties," he said.
He was always on the side of the underdog.Pat Hume
Mr Dallat was described as a "loyal and faithful servant" to the SDLP in a statement from John and Pat Hume.
Pat Hume said: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of John Dallat.
“John Dallat was a loyal friend to John and I for many years. In addition, he was a loyal and faithful servant to the SDLP and the ideals for which the party stood for. He was SDLP to the core.
“During a distinguished political career, he was always on the side of the underdog, defending those who were disadvantaged and standing strong against violence, sectarianism and unfairness in society.
“In difficult times, John never flinched in doing what was right for his community and his country. He was a first-class public representative.”
“Above all, John was a loving family man – devoted to his wife Anne, their children and grandchildren to whom I send my sincere condolences.”
He is survived by his wife Anne, his three children and eight grandchildren.