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Last week, the Assembly observed the normal convention to express condolences on the death of our late colleague Francie Brolly. From a distance, public perceptions often focus only on the party political differences among Members. They often overlook the respect for one another, the strong working relationships and the friendships that are created while pursuing common interests on behalf of our constituencies and sections of our community, and that is why the convention to pay respect to former colleagues exists.
However, during the period when the Assembly was not sitting, a number of other former Members passed away, but there was no opportunity to extend the same convention to them. Having consulted with the Business Committee last week, I take the opportunity put that right today and allow the Assembly to pay its respects on the record.
Today we remember the following eight former colleagues who served in the Assembly: P J Bradley, the SDLP MLA for South Down from 1998 to 2011, who would undoubtedly be proud that his daughter Sinéad continues the legacy of the Bradley name in the Assembly; Pat O'Rawe, the Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh from 2003 to 2007 and former Mayor of Armagh, whom I obviously knew and respected as a party colleague; Donovan McClelland, the SDLP MLA for South Antrim from 1998 to 2003, who was one of the first Deputy Speakers of the Assembly; Oliver Gibson, the DUP MLA for West Tyrone from 1998 to 2003, who, like Francie Brolly and Séamus Mallon, whom we have lost in recent weeks, gave significant public service as a teacher; the Rev Robert Coulter, the UUP MLA for North Antrim from 1998 to 2011, who was a long-serving member of the Assembly Commission; Dr Ian Adamson, the UUP MLA for East Belfast from 1998 to 2003, who was a former Lord Mayor of Belfast; Wilson Clyde, the DUP MLA for South Antrim from 1998 to 2007, after a lifetime in the agriculture industry; and Seamus Close, the Alliance Party MLA for Lagan Valley from 1998 to 2007 and former deputy leader of the party. We formally express our belated sympathies to their families, colleagues, friends and, of course, parties.
The fact that many Members here today may recognise the names but had never met those Members highlights the fact that, increasingly, the Assembly relies on a new generation to take it forward. However, a few of us, including me, worked alongside almost all of them throughout their tenure in the Assembly in the early days, which were also difficult days. While I knew some of them better than others, I acknowledge the significant public service and sacrifice that they made to their constituencies and our society as a whole. No matter the challenges that continue to exist, we should not overlook the problems faced in the first terms of the Assembly and the pressures that they imposed on those who were Members at that time. I extend my personal condolences to all the families, friends and colleagues of the deceased. We, therefore, record our thanks for the contribution that all those colleagues made to public service, the Assembly and our community.
I invite other Members to add their tributes.
Let me say, Speaker, that this is a very timely matter that you have brought to us today, which, obviously, comes all together, for very obvious reasons. It is important that we remember former colleagues in this way. My colleagues will pay tribute to individual Members, but, as First Minister and leader of the DUP, I put on record my sympathy to all the families who were bereaved during the three years that we did not meet in this place. It is important that we recognise the service that was given by those Members, as you rightly said, sometimes in difficult and challenging times. We sometimes think that we are the only politicians to live through challenging times, but I well remember that first Assembly and how there were many challenges to be dealt with. I particularly pay tribute, of course, to Oliver Gibson and Wilson Clyde, who were members of my party and served with distinction during that time. I pass my condolences to their families and all the families of the Members who are remembered here today.
I also welcome the opportunity to add tributes to the Members who have passed away since the Assembly last sat. As has been said quite often but deserves to be repeated, public life is not always an easy life. I admire anyone who steps forward to serve in public life, regardless of which political tradition or background they come from or espouse to. I knew some of the Members who passed away. I pay particular tribute to Pat O'Rawe, who, as you mentioned in your opening comments, was the first Sinn Féin mayor of Armagh city. I worked with Pat in the Assembly on a number of committees in preparing for the establishment of the Assembly pre 2007. Often when public figures lose their life, it is forgotten that there are family members left behind — they could be partners, husbands, wives, children etc — who grieve the person while society grieves the public representative.
I also pay tribute to Rev Robert Coulter, who represented his constituents in a very quiet and humble way but made his point. I remember that, when I was Education Minister, he lobbied extensively for schools in his constituency. He always did it in a very respectful way, but he made his point. I think we could learn a lot of lessons from how the Rev Coulter went about his business.
So, to all those who lost their life since that last sitting of the Assembly and to all their family members — I think of Sinéad Bradley and pay tribute to P J, who I also worked with and knew — we pay tribute to them and honour their memory.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for creating the space for us today to reflect on the contributions of former Members who passed away over the past three years.
On behalf of the SDLP, I express my sincere condolences to the families of all those who served their communities here and to the current Members who served with them in difficult times. While we often disagree in this Assembly, it is fair to say that, more often than not, political battles rarely infect the personal relationships that have been built across our parties and communities. The strength of this place should be our ability to respectfully differ but to never stop working together in the substantial common interests of those we represent. That is the thread that connects the contributions of all those across all parties we are remembering today.
I pay particular tribute to those SDLP voices that are no longer with us. If you were looking for inspiration on how to connect with your community and represent its interests, you would need look no further than P J Bradley. A fierce and compassionate advocate for Burren, Warrenpoint and Ballyholland, P J's loyalty was to the people of South Down before anyone else. That spoke to his values and his character. P J was a patriot in the truest sense of the word, working quietly without fanfare to bring our communities together and build a resilient peace. He was a trailblazer in initiating the campaign for Narrow Water bridge, a campaign his daughter Sinéad has taken up with the same vigour. I know how proud he was when Sinéad won his seat in South Down, and I have no doubt that, the moment the votes were tallied, he was already thinking about the next campaign. Their contribution to our party, to South Down and to Ireland has been immense.
I also reflect on the contribution Donovan McClelland made to peace and politics on this island. As an SDLP delegate to the Brooke-Mayhew talks and a participant in the Good Friday negotiations, Donovan was an important member of our negotiating team and a key part of that immense effort to get an agreement over the line in 1998. He then worked to sustain these institutions as Deputy Speaker, winning respect for his unfailing fairness to all Members.
It is impossible to reflect on Donovan's life without mentioning the lasting legacy of love he had for his family. I have the privilege of working with Donovan's wife, Noreen, who is one of the North's most genuinely caring public representatives. Her support for him during peace talks and her work since has created a lasting legacy that they both share as pillars of our peace. Life in politics is never easy, not least for our family members, who, in many ways, have to share us with our constituents. It can be difficult for them as their husband, wife, father or mother work long hours; as we know, being an elected representative is not a nine-to-five job. At the same time, it is with great pride that they see their loved ones battling tirelessly and serving relentlessly their constituents as they strive to make life better for their own children and for all children across Northern Ireland.
I have no doubt that the families of P J Bradley, Donovan McClelland, Seamus Close, Dr Ian Adamson, Pat O’Rawe, Rev Robert Coulter, Oliver Gibson and Wilson Clyde are all filled with immense pride at the contribution and legacy that they each made to making this place of ours that much better.
Rev Coulter was a man of faith who served in the Assembly from just before its formation in 1996, when he was elected to the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue, where he served as the UUP Chief Whip. He had a long political career. In 1985, Robert was elected as a UUP councillor to Ballymena Borough Council. He retained his seat in 1989, and, in 1993, was re-elected to the council and also elected as the first UUP Mayor of Ballymena since the early 1970s. He served as first citizen of Ballymena from 1993 to 1996. He was part of the team in the background that laid the negotiation foundations for what was to become the Belfast Agreement in 1998, and he was elected as a North Antrim Assembly Member in 1998, a seat he was to hold until his retirement in 2011. During his entire Assembly career, he was a member of the Assembly Commission.
He was also active in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which saw him represent the Assembly at conferences at India, Australia and Canada. In the Assembly, he also served on the Health Committee and on the Employment and Learning Committee and was our party spokesman on both portfolios during his time on those Committees. In 2010, he was awarded an MBE for his services to the Commission and to the Assembly.
Following his retirement in 2011, he championed the cause of special needs education and, something that was very dear to his heart, he served as a chaplain to the Ulster Defence Regiment Association and was president of the mid-Antrim branch of the Ulster Special Constabulary Association. Rev Dr Coulter passed away on 5 September 2018 after a long battle with cancer. We remember him very fondly, and we pass on our prayers and good wishes to his surviving family.
Dr Ian Adamson was a former Ulster Unionist Party Lord Mayor of Belfast who died in Belfast. He was a man of many talents and interests. He represented the Victoria electoral area on Belfast City Council from 1989 to 2011 and served as Lord Mayor, Deputy Lord Mayor and High Sheriff. He was also the MLA for East Belfast between 1998 and 2003 and was a founder member of the Somme Association. In addition to his political career, he was a medical doctor and had a keen interest and provided a wealth of knowledge in the field of history, particularly local history and Ulster Scots. As many of us can testify, he was the author of numerous books and papers. He made a huge contribution to cultural and political life and will be greatly missed by all his friends in the party. Indeed, Lord Empey, who served with Dr Adamson in both City Hall and Stormont, said he had :
"a great sense of humour and dry wit. His flair for cultural issues, particularly as they applied to the Ulster Scots tradition, were brought to life with his lectures and anecdotes. Those of us who were colleagues in the City Hall will miss him greatly."
Indeed, he will probably be looking down now with amusement as there was one time in the Assembly where he made a short contribution in Welsh, and a Member from Sinn Féin congratulated him on his fluency in Irish. Adamson corrected him:
"It is the oldest British tongue; it is the language of the Welsh." — [Official Report (Hansard), Bound Volume 2, p247, col 2].
He is survived by his family, and we wish them all the best wishes.
It feels very strange to be making these tributes to colleagues in this way, but I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to do so. I hope that Members from other parties will forgive me for focusing on my late colleague Seamus Close in my remarks today.
He was one of the first people to join Alliance when it was first formed in 1970, driven by his belief that the horror that was unfolding on our streets needed to stop and that Northern Ireland needed to change. Characteristically, he did not sit back and wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting, but rolled up his sleeves and he did it himself. In 1973, he was first elected to the new Lisburn Borough Council, and between his role there and as an MLA, he served as an Alliance elected representative for over 34 years. One of the highlights of that time for him was in 1993, when he became the first Catholic and non-unionist mayor of Lisburn council. His first act on that occasion was to write to the leaders of all the local churches to ask if he could attend worship with them. That is a measure of how he tried to instil respect at the heart of everything he did. He was always willing to share his advice and experience with others, often, whether we wanted it or not, and to share his views with younger councillors and politicians. That advice — that you could have it out in the chamber, you could have hot and heavy arguments, but if you could not go outside, shake hands and still be friends at the end of it, you were in the wrong job — is good advice for all of us in this Chamber, too.
Seamus was very much a conviction politician. That showed in his courageous stand on paramilitarism and his unswerving commitment to creating a shared future. He was an inspiring person to work with, to listen to and with whom to be part of the same team. His style was direct and blunt, something which I personally like, and he never pulled his punches with anyone, not even his party colleagues. That style led to his being not just respected but a very useful negotiator: people knew where they stood and knew that he could be relied upon to still be standing there when they returned to him later. They were able to rely on him to be honest and forthright with his opinions. However, that directness was also laced with a wit and humour, which made him not just respected but much liked. It also meant that, post-retirement, he made the transition to political commentator seamlessly, aided hugely by his independence of thought. Having shared a studio with him in his role as commentator on occasion, I certainly never took it for granted that Seamus would agree with me and always felt very relieved on the occasions when he did. I have no doubt that those of you who also shared a studio with him will have felt the same relief.
In the Assembly, Seamus's training in business came to the fore, particularly in finance. His desire to know that public money was not misspent made him a passionate advocate on the Public Accounts Committee. He was always ready to challenge where he felt that there was waste or that money could be better spent and was always conscious that it came from someone else's pocket and should be taken care of properly.
While Seamus was a formidable debater, a fierce opponent and a fearless defender of democracy, he was, at heart, a family man. It is fitting that his wife, Deirdre, has been able to join us today. To her, Natasha, Stephen, Brian and Christopher, and to his grandchildren, I want to extend our ongoing thoughts and prayers at this time. I never had the pleasure of being in the Chamber with him, but we were part of the same Assembly team during the hiatus in proceedings between 2003 and 2007. It was an honour to be so. He was always an encourager to me. He encouraged me to not mince my words, to be direct and to be truthful in what I said. Some of you may wish that I had taken his advice less to heart than, perhaps, I have. He was larger than life. He was full of good humour and a generous spirit. He is very much missed by all of us who knew him.
Of course, it is good to take time to remember and reflect on those who used to serve in the House, sat on these Benches and made their contributions to society and the constituencies that they served. Sadly, they are no longer with us. A number of them were in the House when I came here in 2003. I had the privilege of serving alongside some of them. We will all remember them in different ways; for the different contributions that they made and the service that they provided to their constituencies.
As for me, I remember with fondness my dear friend and colleague Oliver Gibson. Oliver was the person who brought me into politics at the very outset. He brought me into council and paved the way for me to follow him into the Assembly in 2003. He was someone who lived for politics. He made some very valuable contributions indeed. He delivered for his constituents. He was a former schoolteacher and vice-principal of Omagh High School. He was passionate about education and delivering for the people of West Tyrone. He was also a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, and he wanted to make sure that law and order was protected for the people of Northern Ireland.
Oliver made some very good contributions to and deliveries for the people in West Tyrone, which still stand as a testament to him. Throughout the length and breadth of West Tyrone, people still talk passionately about Oliver Gibson and his legacy.
Today, we remember all the respective families whose homes have been left with a vacant chair and a voice silenced. As they seek to learn to live with the loss that they have sustained, I want simply to pass on our deepest and heartfelt sympathy to them all. I trust and pray that they will know God's help and blessing in the days that lie ahead. It is always difficult when a dearly loved one is taken from us. You do not get over it, but you learn to live with it. As those families learn to live with their grief, sorrow and loss, we assure them of our prayers. It behoves each one of us in the Chamber to number our days and to apply our hearts unto wisdom.
I echo the comments of other Members about former Members who have passed away in the last three years. I pay tribute to Pat O'Rawe, a former MLA for the constituency that I now represent, Newry and Armagh. I thank Pat for her service to the constituents of that area during her time in the Assembly and as the first Sinn Féin Mayor of Armagh City and District Council.
First, I offer my condolences to my friend and colleague, Pat Catney, who today lays his mother, Eileen, to rest. I extend my condolences to his siblings Elizabeth, Laurence, Jim, Dymphna, Damian, Patrick, Assumpta and Broz-ana.
I also add my belated words of sympathy to all families of former Members who have been, rightly, remembered here today. I welcome Noreen McClelland, the wife of former Member Donovan McClelland, who is in the Public Gallery today.
It is at times like this when all our differences, whether real or merely perceived, vanish. As P J Bradley's daughter and an elected representative of the House, I find myself in the most unusual and highly privileged position of being able to stand and thank each of you for the kind words and expressions of condolence that you offered to me and my family following our loss. The sheer volume of kind words of condolence extended to us, often coupled with shared personal stories that beautifully captured Daddy's kindness, has been overwhelming and most comforting. To each of the individuals who reached out to comfort us from near and far, we are truly grateful.
Before and after politics, P J — or Daddy, as he was known in our house — held one rule above all others during his lifetime: his respect for human life was paramount; his commitment to peace unwavering. In this Chamber, Daddy's love for Ireland and its people was repeatedly displayed: his tireless work on the delivery of Irish passport services to post offices here; the realisation of his vision for all-island free travel; and reaching out to the undocumented Irish abroad. These were just some of the projects that he pursued with passion. Daddy immensely enjoyed representing all the people of South Down and his time on the Agriculture Committee. He did so with great humility, diligence and respect for all.
It is my opinion, however, that local issues brought him the greatest sense of achievement. Projects such as securing a village green for our parish in Burren, and placing on it a millennium wall that recorded the name of every person who was living in the parish on millennium day, mark some of his local legacy. He was an avid GAA supporter who never missed an all-Ireland football final, and a lifelong member of St Mary's GAC. It is not possible for me even to begin putting on record the vast range of achievements that Daddy accomplished in his lifetime.
Thankfully for me, much of them have been captured in the books that he published before his passing. Of course, any work unfinished has been passed to me and others to administer for completion, so there is absolutely no pressure on delivering the Narrow Water bridge.
On behalf of my mother, Leontia, my siblings Martin, Joanne, Deborah, Catherine, Stephanie, William and Miceal, Daddy's brother, Liam, and sisters Nora and Nuala, and all our extended families, I thank the House and all of those who offered words of comfort to us. So many people stepped in to help us. I am acutely aware that, in naming some people, I will leave others out. However, I cannot let the moment pass without personally thanking Father Charlie Byrne, Roisin McCrink, my office staff, Sean O'Hare, and the McAteer family, all of whom offered us great support at a very difficult time.
Finally, I use the opportunity to place on record our huge appreciation to the medical team who supported Daddy during his short illness and to the Southern Area Hospice, which supported Daddy and our family during what was a very peaceful passing. I will always be proud to be P J's daughter. Rest in peace, Daddy.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this business to proceed today. Like other Members, I pay tribute to those former Members who have passed away, in particular Rev Dr Bob Coulter, who was a personal friend and mentor to me. As John O'Dowd and our party leader have already expressed, Bob's passion for health and for employment and learning matters in this place is something that he held deeply. He brought that experience to bear in the delivery of Castle Tower special school in Ballymena. Many will see that as part of his enduring legacy, because he was chair of the board of governors from the original concept to the delivery of the school. I know that he did not make John's job as Education Minister easy at times, but the way in which he conducted that campaign brought about the delivery of the school.
It has been noted that, during his time at Stormont, he moved around the corridors not just with ease but with speed. He often left many a staff member or visitor finding it hard to keep up with him. In the tributes that have been paid, everyone has acknowledged his warmth and the personal time that he gave to anyone whom he met. He was a man who was as comfortable sitting at a kitchen table up a lane in Clogh as he was sitting down to tea with Nelson Mandela.
Like many, I am blessed to have learned from Bob's experience. Having had him as a political mentor and guide has been a great resource to me. A mentor is someone who wants to see you rise to the top and is willing to help you get there, even if it means letting you stand on his shoulders. Bob would not mind my saying that, even with me on his shoulders or him on mine, there is many a hedge or wall in North Antrim that neither of us could have seen over.
For those who knew him, he was a man who had a story for every occasion and eventuality. It was only at the end of those stories that you could tell by the glint in his eye whether he had been winding you up. I once said to him that he taught me everything that I know of the craft of politics. His answer to me, with that same smile, was, "Yes, but I didn't teach you everything I know".
Unfortunately, Elizabeth, Bob's wife, constant companion, confidante and adviser, passed away only a few weeks ago. I pass on my condolences and our condolences to comfort John, Liz, Sharon, Nick, Dan and Adam and the wider family circle. It is known that Bob was a man of great faith who had great love for the Lord. It was his greatest strength, and the gift to us all is that we are assured that he is walking the corridors of power in a better place with the same ease, grace and welcome that he walked the corridors here in Stormont.
I pay tribute to all the Members whom you mentioned at the start of proceedings. I cannot say that I knew them all very well, but I remember P J Bradley as an absolute gentleman. He was a pleasure to be with. I also knew the Rev Robert Coulter. I will say exactly the same thing about him: he was a true gentleman and made some great contributions to the House. Oddly enough, I also remember Oliver Gibson. I knew him before he got into politics, back in the '70s. He was another gentleman, but I knew him through education, so I will not say anything about his politics.
In particular, I will carry on from what Naomi said about Seamus Close and then say a few words about Dr Ian Adamson. Seamus Close was the reason I joined Alliance back in 1989. I will not repeat what Naomi said about him, but I will amplify it slightly. He was awarded the OBE in 1997 for his contribution to public services, and, in 2010, he was awarded the freedom of the city of Lisburn, along with Ivan Davis, who was a past Deputy Speaker here, and Edwin Poots's father, Charlie Poots. They all achieved the freedom of the city on the same day — all richly deserved.
Seamus had many strings to his bow. He was, for instance, a prison visitor at the Maze prison for some time, and his concern for the welfare of prisoners and staff was very evident at times. He was capable of demonstrating his sense of humour. You might remember when a tunnel was discovered under a fence at the Maze. Seamus stood up at Lisburn council and speculated that he was not too sure if it was for people trying to get in or people trying to get out, because of the benevolent regime that was the public perception of what went on in the Maze at that time.
Seamus was the first non-unionist Mayor of Lisburn, but he even made a joke about that: he said that he was the first one who had a beard. That was Seamus. He was a very gifted debater in the Assembly and in council. He did 38 years' unbroken service on council — more than half a lifetime. I do not know how he stuck it, but he did, and fair play to him. He was a massive contributor to the affairs of Lisburn and to Lisburn council.
Following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 — in which election Seamus topped the poll in Lisburn, which is fairly unusual for an Alliance person, but he did — he was tipped at that time to assume your job, Mr Speaker. It did not happen for him, but I know that it was a possibility, because he was sitting in my house when he received the call in which he was offered the job by a Northern Ireland Office Minister. He indicated that he would accept it, but it did not happen for him. We heard on the news later that night that somebody else was to take the post.
Seamus held very firm views on matters that sometimes diverged slightly from party policy, but there but for the grace of God go we all.
Members might remember back in the 2000s when the Alliance Party had decided to redesignate as unionist for a day. They all did — I was not here — except for Seamus. Seamus was for having none of that; he did not believe in it at all. He also had trouble with some of the social issues of the day: I will not go into that. He stuck to his beliefs, always. There was one thing about him: you always knew where you stood with him, because he would tell you, and he would tell you straight out. That applied to his friends as well as his so-called foes. However, he had no foes outside the Chamber; he just did not. His attitude was, "Leave it in the Chamber". No matter what was said or how vitriolic it got, you could have a cup of tea with Seamus afterwards or drain a wee brandy if you really wanted it.
I want to talk briefly about Seamus as the family man. He was married to Deirdre, who is in the Public Gallery today, for around 40 years. They have four lovely children: Christopher, Brian, Stephen and, of course, Natasha. When I first got to know him, around 1990, Natasha was very ill, as most of you will probably remember. She was suffering from a childhood leukaemia — an illness that did not spare many children. In fact, I think the survival rate was about one in five at the time. However, Natasha survived. She is now in her early 30s — a lovely young lady. She was blessed with a son two or three years ago, which is something that would have been in some doubt at a time because of what had happened to her during her childhood.
Seamus delighted in his family. He was the ultimate family man. While he could be quite scathing in his behaviour here and through politics, his attitude in the family was completely different. I know his son Brian, who may be in the Gallery as well, referred to him as a big "softie". I think that is going a bit far, but he was certainly a lovely family man. He took great pleasure in the family and also in his grandchildren, of which he had three: Rory, Thomas and Emily.
As a family, we shared some very good times with Deirdre and Seamus at weekends and on holidays over the years. We came to be very, very good friends, and we will miss him, as will all of his colleagues. He had a wide family circle — all his friends in Lisburn and his friends here as well. <BR/>However, we have his legacy as an Alliance representative, a prominent politician and a supreme family man. That is the way I would like to remember him.
I will turn briefly to Ian Adamson, who I did not know very well but whose language skills and intellect I admired. I gather he knew maybe about a dozen languages fluently, including some that some of us had never heard of because they were very old languages. He knew about the history of language, and he could be very severe on our Irish-speaking colleagues because he thought that sometimes the Irish that they were speaking was not true Irish because they had not gone back 5,000 years to find the derivation of it.
He did not particularly favour the Alliance Party, to be honest, especially in his later years. He could be quite severe with us —.
But that is politics. He was a decent man, and we miss him just the same. My abiding memory of him — I will finish with this, Mr Speaker — is that I made the trip to the Somme battlefields with the Somme Association a few years ago. Ian, who was a founder member of that association, was our guide for the time we were there. He sat at the front of the bus, and, in between every stop, he told us exactly where we had been and the history of it, where we were going and the history of it and probably what was coming up next. He was an absolute fund of knowledge about the battlefields, the First World War and, particularly, the details of the Somme.
I express my sympathy to everybody who was mentioned today, particularly to Ian's family and, of course, to Seamus's.
Thank you for the opportunity to pay these tributes to the many Members who passed away in the last three years while this place has not been sitting.
I will be very brief. I just want to mention in particular Wilson Clyde, who was MLA for South Antrim. He was part of my beginnings in my political time with this party, the DUP. Wilson was a bit of a character. He was a farmer and a very proud unionist. He was incredibly loyal in every way, and that was in a very personal sense as well. I had the pleasure of working for him in his constituency office for a few years back in the 2000s. He always turned up with a smile on his face and was always ready to crack some really crummy joke. He was notorious for that. He was an incredibly honest gentleman, he was very loyal in character and he was very much a family man. I know he will be very much missed by his wife, Evelyn, and the entire family circle in the Randalstown and south Antrim area.
I am probably almost in a unique position in that I knew all these Members from my long service in this place. Obviously, I knew some better than others. My two party colleagues Donovan McClelland and P J Bradley I knew in particular, but there were others I knew from serving on Committees.
Donovan McClelland was a lecturer in the University of Ulster. Life could have been very comfortable for him, but he did not choose that. He contributed to the peace process that eventually became the Good Friday Agreement and, in doing that, he brought himself danger. I remember being in his home on several occasions, which was fortified with high fences, bulletproof glass, deadlocks and all sorts of things. However, that was the contribution that he made, which has brought us to where we are today. Of course, you cannot mention Donovan without his wife, Noreen, who served in parallel on an adjacent council and who, today, makes a huge contribution. If I had one wish, it would be that Noreen would join the Assembly one day.
As you know, Mr Speaker — this will be of particular interest to you — Donovan was a Deputy Speaker, and he was a man of severe discipline. He did not suffer fools easily. On one occasion, there was a Member who was particularly troublesome in the morning. I reassure the existing parties that it was not one of their members. In the afternoon, Donovan was in the seat you are sitting in now, and, within 30 seconds, that Member was ejected. I am not sure if it was done according to the rules, but Donovan had had enough of him, and the Member got the message.
I served alongside P J Bradley on the Agriculture Committee, but he also lobbied me many times on behalf of the undocumented in America. I am glad that Sinéad has mentioned that, because that was important to a lot of people. His and Donovan's contributions were invaluable.
I know that Alliance Members and others have spoken about Seamus Close, and I am conscious that his wife Deirdre is here today. Seamus Close was an amazing individual, and I had the pleasure of serving on the Public Accounts Committee with him. He quickly became known as the Rottweiler, not because he went around biting ankles or things like that but because of the way he penetrated bad practice in government Departments. I know that Seamus and other retired members of the Public Accounts Committee met for years after he retired to reminisce about the good old days when they sorted out the financial difficulties of the Assembly. Seamus will be sadly missed, and I wish to record my experience of working with him, particularly on the Public Accounts Committee. I know other Members appreciated it equally.
I could not resume my seat without making reference to Reverend Robert Coulter — Bob, as he allowed me to call him. He was an incredible person who had a vision for the future of the Assembly that went far beyond simply winning the next election.
When I was speaking about Donovan McClelland's difficult life, I neglected to say that I am so sorry that, in recent days, our First Minister and deputy First Minister have received threats. That was the type of life that Donovan McClelland lived in Randalstown in those years. Current Members of the Assembly should never forget that there were a lot of people who went before them and who made huge sacrifices and took enormous risks to bring this place to where it is today.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to reflect on the Members who passed away during the time when the Assembly did not sit. Other Members have mentioned their party colleagues, and I want to talk in particular about my two party colleagues: Oliver Gibson and about Wilson Clyde, who has already been described as a "proud unionist". I echo those comments, because Wilson was very proud of his unionist roots.
Wilson Clyde was from South Antrim, and he and I shared the townland of Groggan. He was one of the biggest encouragements for me to first put my name forward in 2005. When I was a young boy, Wilson's name was on the ballot paper and I was unable to vote for him, so Wilson had been about for a long time: over 20 years in local government and then, from 1998 to 2007, in the Assembly. Behind all that, as my colleague from South Antrim described, Wilson was a family man and a farmer. He spent much of his life building his farm, but, behind all that, he was a community man. He wanted to see the community thrive, and he worked in his community to do that. I pay tribute to Wilson and offer my sympathies to his wife, Evelyn, who has been left behind.
Wilson was a very active member of the party right up until he suffered poor health. He was still an active member of our party into his early 80s and was frequently seen at meetings. He was so loyal that he was probably one of the first ones to be seen there and one of the last ones to leave. That may be because, as my colleague said, he was still telling silly jokes at the end. Wilson was very dependable, and I pay tribute to him for that and for what he has done for the people of South Antrim.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I put on record my thanks to you for facilitating this moving tribute to former Members of the House. You could not sit here and not be moved by some of the remarks that have been made about former Members who, perhaps, operated in much more difficult, turbulent times than we find ourselves in. I am sure that we will note that we could do a lot better in the future learning from some of the instances of the past.
Before I talk about particular Members, I pay tribute to Sinéad Bradley for speaking so passionately about her father. Sinéad has probably made the most difficult tribute today, and it was fitting for her father. I put on record our regards at this difficult time to another Member for Lagan Valley, Pat Catney, who is burying his mother.
I am one of the new Members. I am not that young, but I did not get the privilege and chance to work with any of the people whom we have spoken of today. However, I had the chance to know two of them in different formats. I knew Rev Bob Coulter through his family. He leaves a legacy not only through his family, which is a credit to him, but through the Member for North Antrim, who is sitting here today thanks to Bob's guidance, and we will be forever grateful for that.
I am minded to pass on my personal respect for Seamus Close. Seamus was a politician in Lisburn when I was not interested in politics. I certainly may not have shared absolutely everything that he aspired to, but I can tell you, hand on heart, that I respected everything he stood for, because he was able to politic in a very mature way. I also knew Seamus — he would not have known it at the time — because his wife, Deirdre, shopped in the butcher's where I worked. There are connections that we do not even know that we have with people, but I knew of him through my admiration of him and through his wife Deirdre.
To close, Mr Speaker, the real reason for me rising is that, I think, the only time that I spoke to Seamus was about six months ago. He was having a meal with his wife and another couple in Hillsborough, and we stopped. He stopped me, because he knew who I was, and I stopped him. We talked for five minutes and made a commitment that we would meet for coffee. I really looked forward to meeting Seamus for coffee, and the reality is that that coffee never happened, so I urge the Chamber to keep short accounts. If you have an appointment to make and you have someone that you need to meet up with, put it in your diary, guys, and make sure that it happens, because, like many, I will not get that chance to have coffee with Seamus.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for making the time available to carry out the tributes today, some of which are, perhaps, more personal than others. I acknowledge what has been said by my colleagues about Oliver Gibson and Wilson Clyde, two men whom one had to respect.
I hope that the Ulster Unionist Party will forgive me and will not mind if I pay tribute to Dr Ian Adamson, whom I regarded as a personal friend, and I am sure that you did, too, Mr Speaker. We served together for many years in Belfast City Council, where he earned respect across the chamber for his abilities to communicate in an effective but very poignant and, indeed, jocular way, as has been mentioned. As a person, Ian was a man of great distinction. He was a great historian, the author of many books, a man of great intellect in his research work and, as already mentioned, a man who spoke many languages. Yet, he was a man who was extremely humble and could walk comfortably in the presence of kings and in the presence of the most humble. He had the ability to cross the Chamber and be friends, yet he was a strong unionist — a unionist with a capital "U" — and never at any stage did he forsake those unionist principles. He had the ability, as I said, to walk with the most high but also an ability to drill right down into matters affecting the community that we both served in the east of the city. Indeed, it was a privilege to be at meetings with Ian, and it was a good learning experience for me. Ian was interested in and a strong promoter of Ulster Scots, not just the language but the Ulster-Scots life and the Ulster-Scots times.
Many of us knew that Ian was ill, but his sad passing came more quickly than had been anticipated. When it is your time and a village is sealed off to hold the funeral, when the president of the Republic of Ireland makes the journey to that funeral, when you see the respect and silence during the entry of the remains to the church and, indeed, when, as the funeral procession takes place, there are 17 lifts of the coffin, you know that someone special has passed. I extend my sympathy to his wife, Kerry — many of you know that Ian married late in life — and, indeed, to his wider family.
That concludes the tributes to former Members who passed away during the past three years while the Assembly was not sitting. I also like take the opportunity, on behalf of Members, to extend all of our condolences to our colleague Pat Catney on the sad passing of his mother, Eileen.