Tributes to Seamus Close, devoted family man and a passionate MLA
The family of former Alliance Party deputy leader Seamus Close has revealed that "he used the last bit of strength he had left to whisper, 'I love you'".
The 71-year-old had recently been diagnosed with liver cancer. Hw served as an Assembly Member for Lagan Valley from 1998 to 2007 and held a number of senior roles within the Alliance Party, including chairman.
In a moving tribute to Mr Close, his family paid tribute to a "devoted husband, father and grandfather".
"It is hard not to feel cheated or robbed of the hopes and dreams we had planned for the years ahead as a family; however it gives us great comfort to hear all the kind words from others who knew Seamus as a man of the people, who prided himself on his integrity and honesty," they said.
"Most people will remember Seamus as a formidable, passionate politician, who connected with people from all walks of life to help bridge political divides and build a better, more peaceful future for Northern Ireland.
"To us, however, Seamus was the greatest family man you can imagine."
They said he had provided his wife Deirdre, three sons and daughter with "a lifetime of happy loving memories that will continue to live on in our hearts".
"Seamus' greatest achievement in life was his family first, and his political career second," they continued.
"We couldn't have asked for a more loving, caring husband and father. For that we will always be grateful."
They added that "in true Seamus Close spirit, he fought his illness with the same dignity, courage and determination he had during the peace talks 20 years ago, right until the very end".
"In his final moments he was surrounded by us, his family, where he used the last bit of strength he had to whisper, 'I love you'."
They said he would be "Forever close in our hearts".
Earlier, Alliance leader Naomi Long paid tribute, saying Mr Close was "larger than life and full of fun".
"He was a straight-talker - people didn't always like the message he brought but he gave it to them with both barrels, and he's somebody I had huge affection for," she said.
"So, genuinely really sad to have heard the news this morning. It's a very, very sad day - he will be really missed."
She described him as a hard-working, astute politician who advocated for ordinary people and someone who had "put in the hard yards in negotiations, including those leading to the Good Friday Agreement, but he never lost the energy he had for helping people and creating a shared future for Northern Ireland".
Former Alliance leader David Ford said that while he didn't always agree with Mr Close, he never doubted his commitment to the party's principles.
He said: "I had my disagreements with Seamus on some tactics and minor points, but I never doubted his unwavering commitment to the principles of Alliance and to building a united community in Northern Ireland."
DUP leader Arlene Foster said in a tweet: "He was a tenacious representative for his constituents and fiercely independent in his views.
"He was admired and respected across the political spectrum".
SDLP Lagan Valley MLA Pat Catney said he will fondly remember the late politician's wit.
"Seamus could be an argumentative contrarian when the mood took him but I will fondly remember his sharp wit, good humour and infectious energy," he said.
The current Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, Uel Mackin, paid tribute Mr Close's council contributions, for which he was appointed OBE in 1997. He was made a Freeman of Lisburn City in 2010.
"Seamus was very approachable and helpful, and always made everyone feel welcome, and a part of the Lisburn community. He was a passionate campaigner on subjects that mattered to the residents.
"He was a true gentleman and an ambassador for Lisburn," he said.
Trevor Lunn, who succeeded Mr Close a Lagan Valley MLA, said it was a sad day for everyone in Alliance.
"Not only was Seamus a close friend in politics but he remained my best friend after his retirement. It is a sad day for everyone in the party but particularly the Lagan Valley Association, who knew him well.
"Alliance achieved a great result in the recent local government election and it is thanks to the dedicated work of Seamus and others, who carried the load locally in some difficult years, that we were able to do that.
"My thoughts and pra yers go to Deirdre and the rest of his family circle."