Taoiseach Micheál Martin has led tributes to Jim Fitzpatrick, owner of The Irish News, who has died after a short illness, aged 93.
The proprietor and chairman of the Belfast-based newspaper was “in every respect a true gentleman” as well as “a profoundly important advocate for an end to violence in the North,” the Fianna Fáil leader said.
“His role in the earliest days of the embryonic peace process is not widely known, but it was crucial,” said Mr Martin.
“In his support for and leadership of the Chamber of Commerce in Belfast, he brought together people from all backgrounds in common constructive cause and was an example of true civic leadership.
“In his quiet and ceaseless philanthropy over a lifetime, his generosity has left its stamp all across Belfast and further afield.”
Describing him as a man of “deep and true faith which he carried with kindness and humility”, Mr Martin said he hoped Mr Fitzpatrick’s eight children and wider family circle will “take comfort and some pride in the knowledge that their father made a genuinely positive contribution to Belfast and to Ireland over the course of his life.”
SDLP Colum Eastwood said Mr Fitzpatrick “was one of the giants of news in Ireland.”
“During the most difficult periods of our recent past, Jim was fearlessly devoted to telling the stories of ordinary people who had suffered the most extraordinary loss and he did it without favour, even when it meant putting himself at odds with the men of violence,” he said.
“He was a man committed to the truth, to fairness and to peace on our island.”
His “strong stewardship” of The Irish News and his “absolute belief in the primacy of democracy and the principles of non-violence contributed in an inestimable way to the peace we enjoy today,” he added.
“He was one of the people who helped sustain the embers of a fledgling peace process and his contribution cannot be underestimated.
“Jim’s passing feels like the end of an era for many of us but it will be felt most acutely by his colleagues to whom he was unimpeachably loyal and of course his family, who he lived every day for and of whom he was unfailingly proud.”
Mr Fitzpatrick was predeceased by his wife Alice and is survived by his children Anne, Brid, Bernard, Eileen, Dominic, Clare, Jim and Andrew.
“I hope they are comforted by the knowledge that their dad lived an extraordinary life and that his dedication to peace saved many others,” said Mr Eastwood.
SDLP South Belfast MP Claire Hanna Mr Fitzpatrick’s contribution “to the life of our island, as a lawyer, businessman and through The Irish News, has been immense.”
“A dedicated and unwavering democratic nationalist, he held firm against the use of violence in the promotion of any cause,” she said.
“Ar dheis Dé go mbeidh a anam dílis agus I measc Naomh na hÉireann go mbeidh sé.”