Northern Ireland lost a “dedicated public servant and a devoted family man” upon the sudden passing of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford in February 2022. A councillor in his early twenties and an MLA in his early thirties, Stalford had been earmarked as a future leader of political unionism.
A native of the Annadale Flats in south Belfast, Christopher Stalford was educated at Wellington College Belfast and Queen’s University Belfast. Upon graduation, Stalford split time between the European office of then-DUP MEP Jim Allister and the Stormont office of Peter Weir MLA.
Stalford was already making a name for himself by this time, having been elected to Belfast City Council in 2005, at the age of 22, representing the now-defunct Laganbank ward. Upon the abolition of Laganbank, Stalford was re-elected to represent Balmoral in 2014.
It was during his time as a councillor that Stalford developed his reputation as a politician dedicated to procedure. During his time on Belfast City Council, Stalford served as High Sheriff of Belfast in 2010, making him the city’s youngest ever High Sheriff at 27, and as Deputy Lord Mayor from 2013-2014.
Earmarked from early on as a potential future leader of the DUP, Stalford made the transition from council to Assembly when he was elected to represent his native Belfast South constituency in 2016, at 33 years of age. Again, his eye for detail and procedure came to the fore in the Assembly, where was named Principal Deputy Speaker in January 2020, a position he held until his untimely death.
Despite predictions of future leadership, Stalford referred to himself as an “Arlene ultra” in 2017 and stated his hope that then-DUP leader Foster would still be DUP leader “in 30 years’ time”. When Foster’s leadership was ended in 2021, Stalford was seen to be a close ally of personal friend Edwin Poots MLA, who succeeded Foster but was then deposed himself just 21 days later, leading to questions about the political future of both the Agriculture Minister and those close to him.
Given their close friendship, it is perhaps fitting that Poots has been co-opted to fill Stalford’s Belfast South seat at the request of his widow, Laura. A committed public representative who discussed the possibility of a return to council level during the Assembly’s three-year absence, Stalford will be remembered in the halls of Stormont and City Hall as an anorak, to whom procedure was sacrosanct. He is survived by Laura and their four children.