Assembly member and widely liked man of principle

David McClarty: February 23rd, 1951 – April 18th, 2014

Independent member and deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly David McClarty, who has died aged 63 after a battle with cancer, was a widely liked and respected man of principle.

After being re-elected to the Assembly in 2011, he could have named his price to rejoin his former party, the Ulster Unionists – the party was one short of the number of seats needed to obtain a second ministry in the Executive – but McClarty held that voters had elected him as an Independent and would not break that mandate.

The range of politicians who attended his funeral, including both Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Jim Allister of the Traditional Unionist Voice, reflected the respect in which he was held across the North’s communities.

McClarty served 16 years in the Assembly, being the only Independent elected in 2011. Many in the Ulster Unionist Party are still angry that his constituency association deselected him before that election for reasons that remain unclear.


McClarty was born in February 1951, seventh of 11 children to John "Jock" McClarty and his wife Helen. Jock McClarty was a Scot who worked first in a factory, then operated a small café. McClarty receive his primary education at Killowen Primary School; his secondary at Coleraine Boys' Secondary School, then Coleraine Academical Institution; and obtained a BA in English and Classics from the Magee campus of the University of Ulster. Most of his working life was spent in the insurance business belonging to one of his brothers.

He was always proud of his roots in Killowen, the mixed, working-class part of Coleraine. For some years he was chair of West Bann, the community group covering his home area. He was a unionist because he believed in the union with Britain, and never joined any of the loyal orders. In 1989 he was elected to Coleraine Borough Council and was re-elected in every subsequent election, serving for a time as mayor.

After his election to the Assembly in 1998 he became first chief whip of the Ulster Unionist Assembly Group, then deputy speaker of the Assembly.

As well as being a politician, he was an amateur actor of professional standard, experience that served him in his role as deputy speaker. He would defuse tense sessions with a joke, once asking fellow deputy speaker Francie Molloy, a Sinn Féin member and beekeeper: "Do you have a queen bee? Or is she a president?"

He was very committed to Killowen parish church, where he sang in the choir for more than half a century, and did his best to live up to his deep Christian faith.

One of his mottos in public life was: “I care deeply about the people whom the world so easily forgets.” He helped build links between Coleraine and Zomba in Malawi, to support development projects. The funds raised brought running water to families, and pens to the hands of schoolchildren.

He is survived by his wife Norma, sons Alan and Colin, daughters-in-law Louise and Niamh, grandchildren, brothers and sisters.