Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann has led tributes to former MLA Reverend Robert Coulter, who has died at the age of 88.
The UUP politician served as an MLA for North Antrim between 1998 and 2011.
When he retired Rev Coulter was the second oldest member of the Assembly, after Ian Paisley.
Party leader Mr Swann said Rev Coulter was “a mentor and a friend”.
“Bob was a stalwart of Ulster Unionism in North Antrim and personally to me he was also a mentor and a friend,” the North Antrim MLA said.
He added that Mr Coulter had a long record of public service.
He was elected a Councillor for Ballymena Borough Council in 1985 and was Mayor of Ballymena from 1993 to 1996.
Mr Coulter was elected to the Assembly in 1998 until he retired in 2011.
Mr Swann said: “He was passionate about education and particularly for children with special educational needs.
“This was reflected in his role as a key advocate for the recently opened new build for Castle Tower School in Ballymena, where he was Chair of the Board of Governors.
“Following in his footsteps in North Antrim, I was always aware of the high bar that had been set by him.”
North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey, who recently visited Rev Coulter in hospital, said he was “shocked and saddened” by his death.
He hailed Rev Coulter as a “hard working and dedicated public servant”, adding: “While Robert and I were in different political parties we shared a common love for our constituency, our country and our faith.”
Mr Storey said he former MLA had been the driving force behind securing the new building for Castle Tower Special School.
“There is no doubt that without the hard work and commitment of Robert all associated with Castle Tower today would not be enjoying the benefits of the new school,” he stated.
“Unfortunately owing to his failing health he was unable to be in attendance at the official opening of the school just a few weeks ago, however his contribution was not overlooked on that special day.
“To his wife and family I extend my sincere sympathy.”
Another North Antrim MLA, TUV leader Jim Allister also praised Rev Coulter for his “unstinting work” in the constituency, adding that the Castle Tower Special School project was “part of his abiding legacy”.
He continued: “The entire North Antrim community is poorer for his passing.”
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill expressed condolences to Rev Coulter’s loved ones.
She added: “Robert Coulter had a long record of public service representing the Ulster Unionist Party in North Antrim as both a councillor and MLA.
“As a member of the UUP, we obviously had political differences, but on behalf of Sinn Fein, I wish to express my sincere condolences and sympathy to Mr Coulter’s family and friends.”