Colleagues pay tribute to the late East Derry MLA John Dallat, one of the last veterans of the political class of 1998

Former colleagues took time this week to pay tribute to the late John Dallat in the very Stormont chamber where he served the people of East Derry for the best part of the last 22 years.

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 6:07 pm

The veteran SDLP politician sadly died after a period of illness on Tuesday.

During tributes in the Assembly DUP MLA Jim Wells referred to the fact that he had been one of the few remaining politicians from the original Assembly mandate of 1998 that was still in position, notwithstanding a brief interregnum between 2016 and 2017.

Mr. Wells said: "John and I sat together on many Committees in the Assembly, including his favourite, the Public Accounts Committee.

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The late John Dallat.

"He was the scourge of government overspending. He made an enormous contribution to the House over 22 years and will be missed greatly as one of the very few Members, including me, who arrived in 1998. Many of us would like to be in Kilrea to pay our respects. We will not have that opportunity, which is very sad. I certainly would have been there had I been allowed to do so.

"My intervention is entirely not in order, but I am glad that it has given me the opportunity to pay tribute to someone whom I regarded as a great friend."

The Deputy Speaker, UUP MLA Roy Beggs, who like Mr. Dallat and Mr. Wells was first elected to the Assembly 22 years ago, said: "I served alongside John as a Member of the Assembly from 1998 and while he was a Deputy Speaker. I know that I speak for all Members when I say that he will be sorely missed."

Other members spoke affectionately of the late Kilrea politician who is the third major political figure from East Derry to have sadly passed on in recent times after Francie Brolly who passed away just this year and David McClarty who died in 2014.

The Finance Minister Conor Murphy said: "I join others in expressing my sadness to learn of the death of John Dallat. I worked with him for many years in the House and express my condolences to his family, friends and party colleagues at this very sad time."

SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole said: "First, on behalf of the SDLP, I want to thank other Members for their remarks and condolences on the passing of John Dallat MLA.

"In some ways, it is ironic that I am the first person from our party to talk about John's legacy and our sadness at his passing, given that my time serving in the Chamber has been fairly brief, but, in that brief time, like everyone in the Chamber, I experienced his extraordinary integrity, courage, passion for the people of East Derry and commitment to inclusive politics in this place.

"He was one of the few people who served in the original Northern Ireland Assembly, having been elected in 1998, along with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. People who served with him through that time know the size of his character and his heart.

"It is an immensely sad time for his family and all those who knew and worked with him. I hope that we will have some more time to reflect on his legacy in the Chamber."

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said: "I join with others and express my condolences on behalf of the Alliance Party to the family and friends of John Dallat.

"I have only been here a short time, but we managed to have a conversation outside a number of months ago. It was around his dogged determination to ensure justice for Inga Maria Hauser, who was murdered in 1988.

"He fought that case very hard. All of us would agree that the best legacy to John would be ensuring that the perpetrators of that murder are brought to justice. Our thoughts are, obviously, with John's family at this time."

SDLP MLA Pat Catney said he had met Mr. Dallat only last week.

"I saw John just last week; I went out to see him and was talking with him. I had to go out to see him simply because I was put on a Committee that he was on.

"When I went out to visit John he was not well, but he still had that fire in him. He and I were trying to plan a trip to Munich; I have a daughter who lives in Dachau and we were going to try to go over to follow-up on the terrible tragedy, which Mr. Muir mentioned, of young Inga Hauser's murder.

"John was still up for the trip. The day that I was there was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, which was the first concentration camp. It was in Germany, but it was the very first one and was the model for the rest of them. I was able to talk to John and, as I say, he lit up.

"I will miss John. I know there will be a time for the House to pay tribute to him, but I genuinely miss him. He was a good man. I knew him long before I ever went into politics; I knew him from the bar but that is neither here nor there now."

West Tyrone SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said his death had come as a 'tremendous shock'.

"Even though he had been unwell, it still came as a shock that he has gone so quickly.

"John was elected to the House for 22 years. He spent 45 years of his life as a public servant. He showed an unbelievable dedication and commitment to the public, and he was a fierce champion of public funds. He was a man who chased every pound and accounted for every penny when it came to his accountable role on the Public Accounts Committee.

"John loved his family, the SDLP and the people of East Derry. To finish, with your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, John had a tough and ballsy exterior, but underneath he was a soft, gentle, kind man and someone who had a great sense of humour.

"Before I stood to speak, I was thinking about the last time that John stood with me in the Chamber. It was when he stood just behind me and paid a heartfelt tribute to Séamus Mallon on his death. This place will certainly be a lot sadder for the loss of a great man — a man who gave his life to so many."

The Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey, who could not attend the Assembly as he is self-isolating for health reasons, said: “I am deeply sorry to hear of the death of John Dallat. I have known John for a long time as a fearless elected representative, well before he and I both were elected to the Assembly in 1998.

“The fact that he returned to the Assembly in 2017, after standing down in 2016, was a sign of how committed John was to the Assembly. Despite his illness, John continued to be in the Chamber up until recent times and that demonstrated his dedication to speak up on behalf of his constituents.

“John’s determination, passion and his sense of humour were evident through all his roles in the Assembly, including as a Deputy Speaker and a longstanding Member of the Public Accounts Committee. Our thoughts today are with John’s wife Anne, his children Helena, Ronan, Diarmuid and his grandchildren.

“I will be making arrangements for the formal expression of condolences to John at next week’s sitting of the Assembly.”