Former MLA Rev Dr Robert Coulter was a “true blue unionist” who was “pivotal” in helping to bring about the Belfast Agreement, mourners at his funeral heard.
Hundreds of people gathered at Clough Presbyterian Church in Ballymena on Saturday as the ex-Ulster Unionist Party politician was laid to rest, having passed away last week at the age of 88.
Among those who paid tribute to Rev Coulter at the service was UUP leader Robin Swann, who described him as a “true friend and mentor”.
Rev Coulter joined the party in 1983 and was elected to Ballymena Council two years later, serving as mayor from 1993 to 1996. He was elected to the Assembly in 1998 until he retired in 2011.
Mr Swann recounted how his former party colleague had taken on the additional responsibilities and security implications of serving on the Police Authority during the height of the Troubles.
“He had many a story to tell, from travelling in the dead of night to meetings with government ministers to hosting delegations at his home in Springmount, and it is recognised that he was pivotal in supporting and helping David Trimble restore devolution through the Belfast Agreement,” Mr Swann added.
The UUP leader also spoke of Rev Coulter’s passionate work in helping to secure a new build for Castle Tower Special School in Ballymena, a project which he said was part of his “enduring legacy”.
Mr Swann continued: “Of the tributes that have been paid, everyone has acknowledged his warmth and the personal time he gave to anyone he met, he was a man who was as comfortable sitting at a kitchen table up a lane outside Clough or having tea with Nelson Mandela or addressing the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and achieving membership for Northern Ireland.”
Politicians from other parties also paid tribute to Rev Coulter ahead of the service, with DUP MLA Meryvn Storey hailing him as a “hard working and dedicated public servant”.
TUV leader Jim Allister praised Rev Coulter for his “unstinting work” in the constituency, adding: “The entire North Antrim community is poorer for his passing.”
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said: “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.”