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Tributes paid to founding member of Alliance Party and former Lord Mayor of Belfast David Cook following death from Covid-19

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David Cook, one of the founding members of the Alliance Party

David Cook, one of the founding members of the Alliance Party

David Cook, one of the founding members of the Alliance Party

Tributes have been paid to David Cook, one of the founding members of the Alliance Party and the first non-unionist mayor of Belfast, following his death from Covid-19.

Mr Cook, who was 76, battled the virus in recent weeks and passed away peacefully on Saturday just after 6pm at Craigavon Area Hospital, his family said.

In a statement, his family expressed their gratitude for the kindness he received in hospitals after he suffered a stroke two years ago and recently as he faced coronavirus.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said it was due to the vision of those like David Cook who formed that party that "today’s society is able to opt for political representation genuinely focused on working for everyone".

Born in Leicester in 1944, he moved as a child to Northern Ireland with his parents and sisters after his father was appointed headmaster of Campbell College, Belfast in 1954.

Trained as a solicitor, he helped found Alliance in 1970 and was first elected to Belfast City Council in 1973 - a post he held until 1985. In 1978 he became the first non-unionist Lord Mayor of Belfast.

He also served in the Northern Ireland Assembly from 1982 until 1986. Mr Cook was the deputy leader of the Alliance Party from 1980 to 1984.

"He devoted his life to finding understanding between its two communities," his family said.

"He believed very strongly that the middle ground in Northern Ireland must have a political voice during the worst period of the Troubles in 1970s and 80s.

"He was ahead of his time on the issue of policing reform in Northern Ireland. He was chairman of the Police Authority from 1994 to 1996 when he and his friend and colleague Chris Ryder were sacked by the then Secretary of State, 'with regret', after debate about the pace and manner of change had led to a split in the Authority."

Aside from politics and policing, Mr Cook was the founder and long-time chariman of the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust, which is now known as the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland. As part of his work he travelled extensively to fundraise for community groups across Northern Ireland.

In latter years he served two terms as chairman of the Craigavon and Banbridge community health and social care trust.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said she was saddened by Mr Cook's passing.

“It is because of the vision of people like David Cook and all those who came together to form the Alliance Party that today’s society is able to opt for political representation genuinely focused on working for everyone," she said.

“We are proud of their hard work, their desire to see a better way forward for Northern Ireland and their determination to make it happen.

She said Mr Cook continued his interest in the party in recent years, attending party conferences and dinners.

"His loss in this our 50th year is all the more poignant as we never got to celebrate that anniversary together as a result of Covid-19, to which he ultimately and tragically succumbed," she said.

“My thoughts and those of the Alliance family are with Fionnuala and the wider family circle as they mourn his passing at this sad time.”

David Cook is survived by his wife Fionnuala; children Barbary, John, Patrick, Julius and Dominic; grand daughters Romy and Imogen; sisters Alison and Nora.

Belfast Telegraph