David Hilditch: Former DUP assembly member dies aged 60

Tributes have been paid to David Hilditch, a veteran member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who has died at the age of 60.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician was first elected to Stormont in 1998 and re-elected a further six times.

He stepped down from his role in September on health grounds.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said Mr Hilditch had a "passion for people and believed in serving others".

The East Antrim MLA, who had cancer, had been one of the last serving MLAs who had been elected to the first assembly post-Good Friday Agreement.

"In recent times, his illness and treatment were taking an incredible toll on his body, but David would still come to meetings and speak up for the people he represented," Sir Jeffrey said.

"When David retired from the NI Assembly in September, it ended an outstanding 32 years of public service.

Mr Hilditch's political career began in 1991 when he was elected to Carrickfergus Borough Council.

He served two terms as deputy mayor of the borough and one year as mayor from 1997-98.

"Whilst as colleagues, we can look back over a life of dedication and service to the people of Carrickfergus, East Antrim and Northern Ireland, our prayers today are with those who were closest to David amongst his family and friends," Sir Jeffrey said.

'Mayor of Carrick'

Mr Hilditch was married with two children. His son Stuart Hilditch died in 2019 after being diagnosed with cancer.

Both David and Stuart Hilditch were heavily involved with their local football club, Carrick Rangers.

The club said it was "deeply saddened" by the death of Mr Hilditch;

"A lifelong supporter of his hometown team, David's commitment and dedication was unwavering through both good and bad periods, playing a crucial role in building the club on strong foundations off-the-pitch while seeing many successes under his stewardship on it.

"Not only was he a pillar for the club, but he was also deeply rooted in the Carrickfergus community."

The DUP's chairman, Lord Morrow, said the former assembly member "leaves a legacy of public service to others which will live long into the future".

"David was dependable, reliable, honourable, trustworthy and loyal," he said. "He will be greatly missed."

Lord Morrow reflected on Mr Hilditch's election to Carrickfergus Council 32 years ago and his relationship with the former DUP leader Rev Ian Paisley.

"Such was his affinity to the area, Dr Paisley used to affectionately refer to him as 'the mayor of Carrick'," he added.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie described Mr Hilditch as "a committed servant of his community", while independent MLA Claire Sugden described him as "a gentleman".

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill added her condolences saying his loss will be felt deeply by his family and party.

Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson, who also previously worked with Mr Hilditch at council level, said he was saddened by the news.