Unionists pay tribute to ex-politician who survived 1977 IRA bomb attack
Tributes have been paid to a former Ulster Unionist politician who survived a 1977 IRA bomb attack.
Joseph Alexander (Joe) Gaston, described as "one of the great stalwarts of Ulster Unionism" in North Antrim, passed away suddenly yesterday.
A former president of the UUP's North Antrim Association, Mr Gaston was elected to the old Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982 and served as mayor of Ballymoney Borough Council.
He was also a leading figure within Orangeism in the area, and was awarded the MBE.
In December 1977, he lost a leg after a bomb was planted in his tractor.
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann led tributes, saying: "Joe was one of the great stalwarts of Ulster Unionism in this constituency who was the president of the North Antrim Association of the Ulster Unionist Party.
"He had served North Antrim in the 1982-86 Assembly, in Ballymoney Borough Council where he also served as First Citizen, and in the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue from 1996-98, the forerunner of the current Northern Ireland Assembly.
"He was also a true member of the Loyal Orders and held county office in the Orange Order.
"However, what Joe will perhaps be best remembered for was his courage and determination to continue serving his community after the cowardly IRA attack on him in which he lost a limb during his sterling service in the Ulster Defence Regiment."
Mr Gaston, he said, became "a terrific example" with his determination not to deterred by the attack.
"Joe was not just a great stalwart in unionism, he was a great inspiration and hero to all of us, not just in the Ulster Unionist Party, but across the wider pro-Union community," Mr Swann added.
TUV leader Jim Allister said he was saddened to hear of the passing of Mr Gaston, who he described as an inspiration.
"The manner in which he rose above the brutal injuries inflicted by the IRA was remarkable. He put many able-bodied to shame," he said.
"Joe remained throughout his life a steadfast unionist who served his community faithfully and well.
"When others wilted, Joe Gaston held to his principles."
Mr Gaston's funeral will take place from his home at Killagan Road, Glarryford, Ballymena, on Saturday at noon to Killymurris Presbyterian Church.