Tributes to Mr Gordon Dunne MLA

Assembly Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 21st June 2021.

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Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 12:00 pm, 21st June 2021

It is now my sad duty to advise the Assembly formally of the death of Mr Gordon Dunne MLA and to report that the Speaker has notified the Chief Electoral Officer that, in accordance with the Northern Ireland Act 1998, a vacancy exists in the North Down constituency that Mr Dunne served so well.

I intend to pay my own tribute to Gordon in a few moments, after which I shall call a representative of each of the parties to speak for up to five minutes. I will allow roughly 30 minutes for tributes, and if there is enough time remaining after representatives from each of the parties have spoken, I may be able to call other Members who rise in their place and wish to say a few words. The sitting will then be suspended for approximately half an hour as a mark of respect to our late friend and colleague.

The Speaker was scheduled to start business today with the announcement that Mr Gordon Dunne had written to him to resign as a Member with effect from Saturday 19 June 2021. Members will now be aware of the very sad news that Gordon passed away yesterday after battling serious illness over the last few months. I know that the whole House will be in a sombre mood of reflection today for the life of a colleague and friend who was held in such high regard across the Assembly.

Mr Speaker expresses his apologies that he is not able to be in the Chamber this afternoon due to ill health. As the Speaker said in his statement this morning, while Gordon was not one of those in the Assembly who sought to shout the loudest, he was a sterling example of a Member who effectively represented his constituents by working diligently and expressing his own strongly held views at all times with courtesy and good humour.

Gordon was an elected representative for 36 years, the last 10 as a Member of this House. His love for the constituency of North Down was plain to all and came across in a record of dedicated public service. He was a former Deputy Chair of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, but we should record today his long-standing commitment to the economy, whether on the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee or its successor, the Committee for the Economy. That interest in business, industry and tourism stands as a testament to his desire to see this country succeed.

Of course, all of us mourn the passing of a friend who was incapable of causing offence to anyone. He was committed to his family and his faith. Most of us will also know of his passion for motor sport. While the Assembly mourns the passing of Gordon Dunne, we know that that cannot compare with the loss felt by his wife, Gillian, and his children Andrew, Stephen and Amy, his wider family and circle of friends. On behalf of the Assembly, I send to them our deepest condolences. It will have given Gordon immense pride to know that his son Stephen will be taking his seat. I know that all Members will welcome him when he joins us.

The word is sometimes overused, but we can say that, in every sense, with the passing of Gordon Dunne, the Assembly has lost a gentleman.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Today, we genuinely mourn the loss of a very special person, Gordon Dunne MBE, MLA, who gave 36 years of his life to public service. He got elected in 2011 to this institution, gaining a third seat for the Democratic Unionist Party in North Down, a seat that would not have been gained for the Democratic Unionist Party had it not been for the standing of Gordon Dunne in North Down, especially in the Holywood area, which Gordon represented for many years as a councillor. The respect with which he was held in that community would need to have been witnessed, and I had the privilege of witnessing it.

To his wife, Gillian, and to Andrew, Stephen and Amy, we offer our sincere sympathies. Last week, I had the privilege — not pleasure, but privilege — of nominating Stephen Dunne as Gordon's replacement in the Assembly. Stephen is a fine, upstanding young man. The relationship that he and his father had was not just a father-and-son relationship; they were best friends. We used to always see Stephen and Gordon together at all the motor sport events, whether two wheels or four. They were enthusiasts about motor sport.

With regard to how he conducted himself — I would have a much more confrontational approach, as some of you know — Gordon was always a measured gentleman and did not get embroiled in scraps across the Chamber. He chose to do his politics in a different way. He was quiet, honest, resolute, fair, compassionate and gracious. He exemplified everything in the Christian gentleman that he was.

The Assembly is the poorer for the loss of Gordon Dunne. His family are the poorer, and his constituents are the poorer. I mourn Gordon's loss not as a colleague but as a friend — a true and genuine friend. He drew alongside me on many occasions over the last number of years. We had those quiet conversations, thought about things and how things should go forward. Gordon was always a constant, ringing you up, having those chats and offering support and advice. He was a caring and loving gentleman who will be greatly missed.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to Gordon on behalf of Sinn Féin. I always found Gordon to be as you described him, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I was first on the Economy Committee with Gordon back in 2016. I always found him to be friendly and civil. Since taking over as Chair of the Committee last year, I had got to know him a bit better. John O'Dowd and I always had a bit of craic with Gordon on the Committee. He was well liked by everyone on our Committee — other reps and Committee staff alike — and we were all shocked to hear that he was ill. On Committee, he was always well mannered and friendly. He fought his constituents' corner, and he was over his brief. He made political points, of course, but every one of my party colleagues who knew Gordon has a good word to say about him. All are shocked and saddened that he has gone.

I genuinely do not think that I ever had a cross word with Gordon, although he once made a jocular jab about my taking up too much time asking questions. For a while last year during lockdown, only Gordon, the Committee Clerk and I were physically present in the room for Committee meetings, so we always had a good chat and a laugh. He was a very witty man. Gordon was a genuinely nice man and will be sadly missed.

The public sometimes have a dim view of politicians and elected representatives, but most really want just to do the best for the people whom they represent. Gordon was one of those representatives. You could tell that he really cared about being an elected rep, about North Down and about the people whom he represented.

On behalf of Sinn Féin, I extend our deepest sympathies to Gordon's wife, Gillian, their children Andrew, Stephen and Amy, and the wider family at this very sad time. I also send our thoughts and condolences to his party colleagues and friends who are feeling his sad loss. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

On behalf of the SDLP, I convey my sincere condolences to Gordon Dunne's family, friends and party colleagues. We know what it is like to lose a friend and colleague, and we know how much more difficult that process is under the current circumstances.

As already said, Gordon was a good man who cared dearly and deeply about his community and constituents. In my dealings with him, I found him to be straight-talking, fair and, above all, a very friendly and approachable Member. As a Minister, I got to see at first hand how deeply he cared for his constituents. He made continual representations on their behalf. If an issue mattered to Gordon's constituents, it mattered to him. With 36 years of public service as an elected representative, and having served as mayor and deputy mayor of his borough, Gordon clearly had a deep and enduring love for the people whom he represented. We can all respect that and learn from it.

Unfortunately, due to ministerial commitments, I will not be able to stay in the Chamber to hear all the tributes, but my thoughts, and those of my party colleagues, are with Gordon's friends, his family and his DUP colleagues at this very difficult time.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

I served alongside Gordon in politics for almost 30 years. I had the privilege of serving with him for almost 20 years on the former North Down Borough Council. He was a passionate advocate for his party. At times, in the council chamber, he was its lone voice. He was always very encouraging of me in the early days of my political career on council. On many occasions, we had different positions on issues, and, on equally as many occasions, we stood shoulder to shoulder. Whatever the events in the council chamber, the evening always ended with his invitation, "Brother Chambers, are you coming in for a cup of tea?". At that point, the politics stopped, and the humorous side of Gordon — he had a huge sense of humour — took over. His banter was never pointed or hurtful.

He was a gentleman and a man of faith, and, most importantly, his word was his bond.

He never spoke ill of political opponents. He may have opposed their opinion, but he always respected their right to hold it. At election time, Gordon put out his stall and highlighted his values, but he never sought to put down or undermine his opponents. In all the years that I worked alongside Gordon, I never saw him do anything or take a position for selfish reasons. I will remember Gordon as a fellow politician but, more importantly, as a friend. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family at this time. His son Stephen, when he feels ready, will be in the Chamber to take over from his father. I know that Stephen will bring to the Chamber the same values that his father held.

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance 12:15 pm, 21st June 2021

I come here today with a genuine and profound sense of sadness. My immediate thoughts and prayers are with Gordon's family: with Gillian, Andrew, Stephen and Amy. This is a very difficult moment for many, but particularly for the family. There is real shock and sadness, particularly in Holywood, the town that he loved so well and so ably represented, at the loss of a dedicated public servant. That is what Gordon was: he was a dedicated public servant.

He joined the then North Down Borough Council in 1981 when he was elected as a councillor. There is a story to be told about how he was very quickly elevated to the role of alderman. He served on the council for many years and had terms as deputy mayor and mayor. He became a Member of the Assembly in 2011. Gordon had very strong political views, and his and my views often differed. We had debates in the Chamber from our differing viewpoints, but the ultimate measure of the man was that, after those exchanges, he was able, as Alan said, to have a cup of tea, to be civil and friendly and to exchange banter. To me, that demonstrated Gordon's strength: that ability to separate the politics from the person and to engage with and support other people.

As I said, Gordon served as Mayor of North Down during his time as a public servant. I also had the privilege of serving as mayor from 2013 to 2014, and I will be forever grateful to Gordon for the opportunity to do so. This will be difficult for me to say, because I have not spoken about it before. We had a power-sharing agreement in the council over four years, when things were tough politically. Gordon came to the council chamber and voted for me to become mayor, for which I will be forever grateful. He honoured his word: he was someone whom you could trust and respect. Politics needs such people, and we are so sad for the loss of someone who had those values at his core. You could trust and engage with him.

Last year in this Chamber, after a debate, Gordon came over to me to engage in a good bit of humour and banter. I had known Gordon since I joined the council in 2010, and he asked me, "Did you ever think that both of us would be in this Chamber together?". I was honest and said no. One of my great sadnesses is that we did not have more time to work together as colleagues in this place. As Gordon would have said to other people, "Good night, brother". Rest in peace, Gordon.

Photo of Rachel Woods Rachel Woods Green

As others have done, I express my deep condolences to Gordon's family — Gillian, Amy, Andrew and Stephen — the wider family circle, Gordon's many friends and his DUP colleagues. Gordon represented Holywood and North Down for over three decades, holding the positions of councillor, alderman, deputy mayor, mayor and, most recently, MLA.

His record of public service will be remembered well into the future. I know from the past few weeks, with the news that he was stepping down, and from overnight, that there is great sadness in North Down, particularly in the very tight-knit community in Holywood where Gordon was so well known.

I only served alongside Gordon as an MLA for the past 18 months, but I thoroughly enjoyed my engagement with him as an MLA and also as a councillor, when I sat on council with his son Stephen, and as his constituent, having lived in the area for the whole time that Gordon represented it. Like Andrew Muir, I always found Gordon to be very personable, with good humour. He certainly gave you the time of day. You were always welcome in his office to talk about any issue; he would always have you in. Gordon always said, "Hello". He had something to say to you, but he made time for you.

He will always be well liked and well respected across the political spectrum. I know that Gordon's family will be very proud of what he achieved professionally as a public servant and will miss him deeply as a loved family member. My thoughts are with all the family at this most difficult of times.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I join in the generous and deserved tribute to Gordon Dunne upon his passing, which is a reminder to us all of our own mortality. I have known Gordon Dunne for many years. The tributes that have been paid sum up the man as honourable, straightforward, without malice and, as a consequence, very personable. He served his constituency extremely assiduously. He was the personification of the constituency representative in his commitment to ensuring that the needs of his constituents were always to the fore. That is a good example for us all.

I express my condolences to his wife and family; to his siblings and wider family, some of whom, in fact, are members of my party; and to his political family in the DUP, of which he was such a stalwart for so long. I have no doubt that he will be missed in the manner that has been expressed today. To all who are affected, I express my thoughts and prayers. I cherish the service that, as a public servant, Gordon Dunne gave to North Down and to Holywood in particular. From my family connections there, I know the assiduous nature of his service in that community.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

On behalf of my party, I offer my sincere condolences to Gordon's friends, family and colleagues on the very sad news of his passing. I did not come across Gordon directly on Committees or in the Chamber, but he was always courteous and polite when I passed him in the corridor, even if we did not agree or our politics did not meet. I offer my sympathies to everybody who knew Gordon and who was close to him, because this is obviously a very sad day for them.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Gordon Dunne was so much more than just a colleague; he was very much a personal friend. He was a gentle, godly man, who epitomised all that it is to be a Christian. He was an encourager, somebody who spoke to you in the corridor, picked up the phone and sent text messages. Even in very recent days, when Gordon could barely do that, he was doing that with me.

A number of weeks ago, I was able to visit the home. We were in a rush that day; I went with my good friend Mr Buckley. I knew when I talked to Gordon in the kitchen that it was likely to be the last time that I would speak to him. We set aside the time, and we were not in a rush any more. I am so glad that we had that opportunity to have tea and conversations about life, politics and his family. I knew when I left that house that things were not looking good, and, only a number of weeks later, he passed away.

I had the opportunity to serve with Gordon on the Economy Committee, and Ms Archibald spoke very well about his role on it. He loved that Committee, and I served with him on it. More recently, we served on the Justice Committee, and I am not so sure that he loved that just as much. He certainly liked to quiz about legal aid, and departmental officials know that he had an interest in that because it was about public finances. Gordon always had an interest in how money was being spent and whether it was being spent well. I always enjoyed that time with Gordon. He did not take to the Zoom technology, and that is why, while everybody else was using the StarLeaf facility, Gordon kept coming into the Building whenever he could.

He was a faithful public servant — not in the Hollywood celebrity attention-seeking style. He was diligent, hardworking, understated and quiet. He was Mr Holywood in North Down. They have lost somebody who championed their cause so well for many years. My sympathies go to his wife, Gillian, and to Andrew, Amy and Stephen. I am delighted that Stephen will continue his legacy in this place and represent the party in North Down.

For me, it is farewell and we will meet again, because Gordon had a strong personal faith. He put his trust in the Lord many years ago. We grieve his loss and we join the family as they mourn, but I know that I will see Gordon again, because he is in eternity with the Saviour that he loved — a Saviour whom I love. I will get to see Gordon again. I know that Gordon would want me to encourage you all to think about your place and where you will spend eternity. We remember the man; we remember the encourager that he was. This place is very much the weaker for his passing.

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

I will keep my remarks very short. Everything that has been said here is exactly my impression of Gordon. I served with him on the Justice Committee, and you would describe him as an absolute gentleman. Mr Principal Deputy Speaker, you said it yourself: he is and was an absolute gentleman. My thoughts today are with his family. When you love somebody and lose them, it is difficult at any time, but he was much too young to be lost. My thoughts today are with his family, all his party colleagues, his friends and those who loved him.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I rise to pay tribute to the late Gordon Dunne. I got to know Gordon well at the Committees that we served on. In all his dealings with me, I always found Gordon to be a very respectful, honest and decent man who worked hard for his constituents, as many have said. We had many chats in the corridors of this place — a bit of banter, chat and humour. Indeed, we even exchanged advice about certain constituency issues, such as mobile phone signals, or other matters that came up in the Committees that we served on. It is a very sad day for the family, his colleagues on the Benches and those who worked very closely with him down through the years. All that has been said today reflects my experience of Gordon as well. I extend my sincerest sympathies to his wife, Gillian, to his children Andrew, Amy and Stephen, and to his extended family and friends. May God rest him.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP 12:30 pm, 21st June 2021

It was with a real sense of sadness that I learned of Gordon's passing yesterday evening. I am not here this afternoon to reiterate the tributes that have been paid to Gordon, but I should like to be associated with them. Gordon was one of the first MLAs I met when I came to Stormont in 2016. Gordon, as you may or may not know, is a native of Fermanagh. He came over and introduced himself to me in the corridor, and from that day forward, when he met me in the corridor, he said, "Well, Rosemary, what's new in Fermanagh this week?" We always stopped to have a few minutes of conversation, and that friendly banter continued most weeks.

Indeed, Gordon was one of the most highly respected MLAs in the House, and I was greatly saddened to hear of his death. While my thoughts and prayers are with Gordon's wife, Gillian, and his immediate family, I also wish to convey my deepest sympathy to his brothers and sisters in Fermanagh and Tyrone, many of whom I know and have spoken to personally over the past couple of years. I also convey my sympathy to you, his party colleagues, on his passing.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I rise on this sad occasion to pay tribute to my colleague of 16 years in North Down Borough Council and then the Assembly but, above all, my friend of many more years. Much has been said of Gordon's integrity and humour, and I echo that, but there are four words that, in my mind, epitomise what was at the heart of Gordon Dunne: faith, family, friendship and service. He was a man of strong Christian faith, and if there is comfort in the sadness that we face today, it is knowing that he is safe in the arms of Jesus. He was a man who, in his faith, did not simply talk the talk or go to church on a Sunday but lived his life through true Christian principles, and he demonstrated that in the way that he treated other people.

There was no more devoted family man that I can think of than Gordon Dunne. To Gillian, Andrew, Stephen, Amy and the wider circle, I pass on my condolences in what must be heartbreaking days. On friendship, as we have seen, Gordon was abundant in the level of his friendship. We have seen, not just in the council chamber but in the Assembly Chamber, the extent to which he would have banter and craic with everyone, from whichever background they came; it did not matter to Gordon. On a number of occasions, either after a council meeting, on a phone call or across a chamber, the extent of friendship and engagement from Gordon was extraordinary.

We have talked in recent weeks about the opening up of hospitality. Gordon was a one-man hospitality machine. You could not call into the house or call over to the office without the kettle going on and a cup of tea or coffee being offered, even if you were in a hurry, but that was not really enough, because then it would be, "Would you not take that wee pancake", "Look, here's some sandwiches", or "Here's some buns that have been left over". That was very much the measure of the man.

Finally, on service, Gordon was a man who devoted his adult life — I think that he was elected to North Down Borough Council when he was 21 or 22 — to the people of North Down in general and the people of Holywood in particular. He was an indefatigable fighter for those people. I think particularly of a series of occasions on which he pressed very strongly for the council to do work on a road. If I am being honest, there was no legitimate reason for the council to do that work, but he badgered me, Alan Graham and Trevor Polley. Week after week, we said to him, "Gordon, look, there's just no way that we can do this. This cannot be done", but he came back again and again until, eventually, maybe to shut him up, we said, "Yes. Here's a way we've found to be able to do this". That was typical of Gordon. He would fight for his constituents to the bitter end. He has delivered for thousands, and, as a result, there are thousands of people who will mourn his passing. Gordon, like me, enjoyed a bit of a pun, and, for an election, he quite liked the slogan, "Vote Gordon for a job well Dunne". Today, we reflect on a life well Dunne.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I want to add my tribute to Gordon. I got to know Gordon when I was Education Minister, and, a wee bit like Peter, I was lobbied constantly about schools in Holywood. He invited me to Holywood one day. I arrived at the first school, and there was a police outrider sitting on a motorbike. He said, "John, I've organised you an escort". We went round two or three schools with the motorbike escorting me around Holywood, and, when we got to the third school, I said, "Gordon, I've been escorted out of a few places by the police, but I've never been escorted around by the police". He had a great laugh at that.

In recent times, I got to know Gordon on the Economy Committee. As the Chair said, every meeting started off with a bit of banter from Gordon and a joke. We were planning to have a meeting on the shores of Lough Neagh. Gordon, in his usual form, said, "What would we want to go there for?". I said, "Because it's beautiful", and there was a wee bit of banter about north Down and Lough Neagh etc. Unfortunately, we will not get him to the shores of Lough Neagh now, and I regret that deeply.

I will miss Gordon. I enjoyed his company. He was a determined politician in his own way, as others have said, and he represented his constituents well. As my mother said about people, he was a civil craythur. That was the most outstanding thing about him. I offer his family and friends my deepest sympathy.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

Days like this are never easy. I rise to pay tribute to my friend Gordon Dunne MBE. Gordon gave a lifetime of service. He has been described in the House as many things: man of faith; man of integrity; man of service; man of honour. He was all those things and much, much more. He selflessly served his constituents for 36 years, serving his community and country with compassion and conviction combined with a warm smile and a big heart. He was rightly recognised for that service by Her Majesty The Queen with the MBE, which was a fitting tribute to a life of service.

How can I describe Gordon's character? He had a warmth of character; it was infectious. He had a smile that could light up a room and a laugh that instantly put people at ease, regardless of their background. Many Members can tell a story of Gordon Dunne. He had some laugh telling us the stories he had. There were some very unusual stories about people of very different political persuasions, but he took great joy in that. His son Stephen was able to tell me that, when Gordon announced that he was retiring from this place and the tributes started to pour in from across the country, he sat down with his dad and they scrolled through the stories. He said that there were tears of joy and there were laughs. Stephen and the family have been incredibly touched by the many personal stories that have been told and the tributes that have been paid from people from across the House and the country to their dear father, Gordon.

Gordon had some fantastic hobbies and interests. How many of us got to know about Gordon's love for motor sport, which has been mentioned today? It was incredible. If I had a pound for every time Gordon Dunne mentioned the World Rally Championship coming to Northern Ireland, I could fund it myself. He was an incredible lobbyist for the causes he loved and was passionate about. Whether he was standing at a pothole in North Down, fighting for people on the Health Committee, which he served on over many years, or fighting for a business, Gordon Dunne did not take no for an answer. He kept going. What a wonderful legacy that man leaves in this place. The stories have been incredible.

Perhaps Gordon was the greatest example of how people in this country should treat one another. There were differences of opinion, but there was never anything personal. Gordon always told you how it was. Even if it meant having uncomfortable conversations, Gordon had to tell you what he thought. When you left that room, however, Gordon was always your friend. I will never forget him for that.

To his wife, Gillian, his children, Andrew, Stephen and Amy, his wider family circle and his close group of friends, I say, "Farewell, brother Dunne. This world's loss is heaven's gain".

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

The final speaker is Ms Joanne Bunting.

Photo of Joanne Bunting Joanne Bunting DUP

Mr Poots was called today to speak on behalf of our party. Mr Givan spoke on behalf of our country. Mr Weir spoke as a long-time constituency colleague. Mr Buckley spoke as a close personal friend. I rise on behalf of our Assembly group. We are immensely sad today. Gordon was not only an esteemed colleague; he was a gentleman and a beloved friend, ever with a kind word and a hearty chuckle. We will remember with fondness his loud whisper in the Chamber. We each have a story about our friendship with Gordon, about his impact on our lives, his kindness, his generosity, his integrity, his thoughtfulness and his sense of fun. He will be sorely missed.

Gordon's legacy will live on. His record of service, his commitment and his diligence were impeccable. They are qualities to which we all aspire. Colleagues across the House have been in similar positions and know the sorrow that they bring. We thank you and are grateful for your expressions of sympathy and condolence.

We are a group that is in grief and mourning. More importantly, a family for whom we care deeply is in grief and mourning. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with Gillian, Andrew, Stephen and Amy. We pray that the God of all comfort will draw near to them at this time of grief.

I will leave you with Deuteronomy 33:12:

"And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders."

Today, we are grateful because Gordon is at home with the Lord, resting between his shoulders.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Thank you. As is the convention on an occasion such as this, I propose to suspend the sitting for roughly half an hour as a mark of respect. The sitting will resume at 1.15 pm.

The sitting was suspended at 12.43 pm and resumed at 1.15 pm.

Notice taken that 10 Members were not present. House counted, and, there being fewer than 10 Members present, the Principal Deputy Speaker ordered the Division Bells to be rung. Upon 10 Members being present —