DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said he is delighted and humbled to have been given a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
The Democratic Unionist, who was first elected in 1985, is among 101 people from Northern Ireland to be recognised.
He said: “I am absolutely delighted to have received this honour and indeed humbled that I would be considered worthy of such an honour.”
Mr Donaldson was the youngest person to take a seat in the Stormont Assembly at the age of 22 - and since 1997, he has been elected to Westminster five times where he sits on, among others, the defence and Northern Ireland Affairs committees.
The former Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, who lost two relatives during the Troubles, began his political career as an Ulster Unionist but was among a group dubbed the “baby barristers” who opposed the direction being taken by former leader David Trimble.
In 1998, shortly before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Donaldson and Arlene Foster, now First Minister, famously defected to the DUP.
As one of the party’s most high profile politicians, he has been a key player in their negotiating team and is currently the DUP’s chief whip.
“I see this honour, not just as a recognition of the work that I have done in over 30 years in active politics in Northern Ireland, but also a tribute to the people I represent and who have put their faith in me in a number of elections,” said Mr Donaldson.
“So, I dedicate this honour to them and also to my family who have stood by me through some very challenging times and also to my party.
“When I was told about it, you could have knocked me down with a feather. It came as a huge surprise but a very welcome one.
“In the year the Queen celebrates her 90th birthday, it is truly a great honour.”
Despite the new title, Mr Donaldson, a married father of two daughters, has insisted he will not change.
“I’ll always be plain Jeffrey to my friends and to the people that I represent,” he added.
Almost half (48%) of the 101 honours distributed in Northern Ireland have been awarded to women.
Inspirational businesswoman Rotha Johnston has been made a Dame for services to the local economy and for her role in promoting female entrepreneurship through her participation in the Northern Ireland Women’s Network.
Ms Johnston is also currently pro chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast, chair of Northern Ireland Screen, a non executive director of Northern Ireland Electricity and an independent board member of the Department of Justice and Belfast Harbour Commissioners.
Dr Malcolm McKibbin, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, has been awarded a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) for delivering major reform and for his part in negotiations which resulted in the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements.
The oldest recipient in the region is 92-year-old Stanley McIlroy who has been given an MBE for his tireless fundraising.
The pensioner from Belfast has raised more than £800,000 for Cancer Research UK and continues to bring in an average of £10,000 a year.
At just 21 years old, plumbing apprentice Gary Doyle is the youngest person in the UK to receive an honour on this latest list.
In 2015, Mr Doyle, from Castlewellan in Co Down, won a gold medal for his plumbing and heating skills at the World Skills championships in Brazil.
Meanwhile, school lollipop lady Mary Stevenson has been given an MBE for services to education in north Belfast.
The pensioner spent more than 40 years as a dinner lady at Ligoniel and Ballyduff Primary Schools and has worked for the past 17 years as a school crossing patrol person.
Ardoyne youth worker Owen Maguire is also among the unsung heroes to be given an MBE.
He has been helping young people since 1971, at the height of the troubles and his citation said: “He was then and remains to this day extremely self effacing in respect of the huge difference he has made to the lives of thousands of young people.”
Married couple William and Elizabether McCay have each been awarded a BEM (British Empire Medal) for services to music and the community after they set up a series of summer music recitals in Belfast city centre church to showcase new young talent.
Three Queen’s Police Medals and one Queen’s Ambulance Service Medal have also been received.