Politics in Northern Ireland has lost “a man of honour and integrity, who worked tirelessly in the service of others”, following the death of former North Down MLA Gordon Dunne.
A Fermanagh native, Dunne, best known for his constituency work as both a councillor and an MLA in North Down passed away in June 2021, following a short battle with cancer.
The 62-year-old father of three died less than two weeks after announcing that he was stepping away from an almost 40-year career in politics due to serious illness.
First elected in 1981 to local politics, Dunne a motorsport enthusiast, became a DUP MLA in 2011, a position he retained until right before his death.
Dunne’s former party leader Arlene Foster paid tribute to Dunne, describing him as “a great public servant” and “someone who always put his constituents first”.
Dunne was born in the Kilskeery area, the eldest of seven siblings, before his family relocated to the outskirts of Ballinamallard. Dunne previously expressed his belief his father, a farmer, installed the values of hard work in him, while his mother, a health visitor, encouraged his education and community work.
Dunne is a cousin of former North Down MP Sylvia Hermon and was Chairman of the North Down Democratic Unionist Association.
Educated in Omagh Academy and later Portora Royal School, Dunne entered further education in Enniskillen, leading him to take up an apprenticeship with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in Holywood, County Down. Dunne would spend almost 30 years working for the MoD.
He has been described as a man of “faith, family and service” by his friend and colleague Peter Weir MLA.
During his 28-year career as a councillor on North Down Borough Council, Dunne served terms as both mayor and deputy mayor.
Dunne was in his third term in the Northern Ireland Assembly prior to his resignation, having been first elected in May 2011 and subsequently re-elected in May 2016 and March 2017. Most recently, he served as a member of the Economy Committee. In a previous term, he served as deputy Chair of the former Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure.
Dunne’s recognition of the benefits of education were reflected in his roles as governor of Holywood Primary School and governor, Rathmore Primary School, Bangor.
He was also deeply religious, stating previously that he read a section of the Bible every night and described himself as an “advocate for maintaining Christian standards in society”. He was also a member of the Loyal Orders.
In 2016, Dunne was recognised for his prolonged years of work in politics with an MBE.
Paying tribute, First Minister Paul Givan MLA described Dunne as a “highly valued friend and colleague” before adding that “his contribution to the Assembly will be sorely missed”.
“As so many will testify, he was man of honour and integrity, who worked tirelessly in the service of others. He undoubtedly fought the good fight, he finished the race and kept the faith to the end,” he stated.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also paid tribute to Dunne, describing him as “a gentle and good-natured character who had time for everyone he met”.
Dunne’s seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly has now been occupied by his son, Stephen, who worked in his father’s office as a researcher and who served on Ards and North Down Borough Council.
Dunne is survived by his wife Gillian and children Andrew, Stephen, and Amy.