The Northern Ireland Assembly has paid tribute to Progressive Unionist leader David Ervine who died on Monday.
Mr Ervine, 53, died in hospital after suffering a heart attack and later a stroke and a brain haemorrhage.
The assembly adjourned for half an hour on Tuesday in his memory. His funeral will take place on Friday.
Former US senator George Mitchell was among the politicians who praised Mr Ervine, who had helped broker the 1994 loyalist paramilitary ceasefire.
Mr Mitchell said Mr Ervine, a former UVF prisoner, had played a critical role in the peace process.
"He had seen the worst and he wanted the best for the future," said Mr Mitchell, who helped broker the Good Friday Agreement.
"He live a very interesting and dramatic life. I found him always to be very impressive, very committed to not returning to the difficult past which he and others had lived."
The PUP leader had been an assembly member for East Belfast since 1998 and also represented the Pottinger area in Belfast City Council.
Billy Hutchinson, who met Mr Ervine when they were both in prison, went on to become one of his closest political allies.
He said: "His legacy is that he has led loyalism out of the dark ages.
"Whether people liked David or didn't like him, the one thing about him was that he took a lot of risks for peace and he challenged people who didn't want to know anything about peace."
Tributes were also paid to Mr Ervine from Northern Ireland politicians, presidents and prime ministers.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was very sorry to hear of Mr Ervine's death.
"David was a man who, whatever his past, played a major part in this last 10 years in trying to bring peace to Ulster," Mr Blair said.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the PUP leader had been a courageous politician.
"David Ervine had travelled his own difficult journey to democratic politics but he made that journey," Mr Ahern said.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said Mr Ervine was a "talented, courageous and an honest politician".
"He wanted to solve problems not simply restate them, always looking for a way forward," Mr Hain said.
Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said Northern Ireland had lost "a unique, charismatic and uncharacteristically spin-free politician".
"He realised that violence belonged in the past and was keen to play his part in helping loyalists make the transition towards exclusively peaceful and democratic means," Sir Reg said.
George Mitchell paid tribute to the PUP leader
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams he was shocked by Mr Ervine's death.
"He made a valuable and important contribution to moving our society away from conflict," Mr Adams said.
DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson, the MP for East Belfast, said Mr Ervine was a "staunch defender" of the area.
"Even those who saw politics from a different angle of vision would openly acknowledge that he genuinely wanted to see a new era of peace and stability in Northern Ireland," he said.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the PUP leader "was a great character and he always showed real character".
"While his strong voice will no longer be heard his strong views and values will continue to shape the future for which he worked so hard," Mr Durkan said.
The PUP said loyalism had lost its most articulate spokesperson.
"Unionism has lost the most progressive voice of this generation. Politics has lost a statesman. Our peace process has lost its most optimistic advocate and Ulster has lost a devoted son," a party statement said.
Alliance Party leader David Ford also paid tribute to Mr Ervine.
"His personal passion for progress will be missed. He played a pivotal role in turning loyalism away from violence," Mr Ford said.
Mr Ervine, who was married with two sons, became the leader of the PUP in 2002 after replacing Belfast councillor Hugh Smyth.