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Tributes paid as ‘fierce’ SDLP veteran John Dallat dies at 73

Mr Dallat started his political career at Coleraine Council in 1977 and was later a Stormont MLA during more than 40 years of service.

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Tributes have been paid to former SDLP MLA John Dallat (left) who has died at the age of 73 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Tributes have been paid to former SDLP MLA John Dallat (left) who has died at the age of 73 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Tributes have been paid to former SDLP MLA John Dallat (left) who has died at the age of 73 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Tributes have been paid to SDLP veteran John Dallat from across the political divide.

The East Londonderry man died at the age of 73 following an illness.

Mr Dallat changed his career from teaching to politics in 1977 when he was elected to serve on Coleraine Council.

He went on to become the first nationalist mayor of the town in 2001.

Mr Dallat later served in the Northern Ireland Assembly, where he became known for speaking out in his work on Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Mr Dallat as a “fierce and forensic champion of people and the public interest as well as a good and loyal man”.

“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,” he said.

“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.

“As a public representative, John struck fear into the heart of anyone who dared misspend a penny of public money.

“His forensic skill as a member of the Public Accounts Committee may not have won him many friends in the higher levels of the public sector but it won him respect across political lines. It was a respect he maintained with a fair hand as deputy speaker of the Assembly.

“Even retirement couldn’t stop him and I’m glad that he came back to the SDLP Assembly team in 2017. We will miss his infectious laugh and his deep experience.”

Mr Eastwood said the thoughts of all in the SDLP are with Mr Dallat’s wife and three children.

“John’s family meant everything to him. We’re thinking of them at this difficult time and I hope they are comforted by the knowledge that he made an immeasurable difference,” he added.

First Minister Arlene Foster said: “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.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted her condolences: “I am very sorry to learn of the passing of MLA John Dallat. 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.”

Stormont deputy speaker Roy Beggs (UUP) paid tribute to Mr Dallat in the chamber, adding that the Assembly will pay formal tributes to him and his family next week.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw tweeted that Mr Dallat was a “hard-working MLA, who was at all times warm and engaging”.

PA