Mr Nesbitt said: "Seamus Heaney was a man of global significance, whose insight and artistry brought great credit to Northern Ireland. His influence ran broader than the arts. We all remember how President Bill Clinton chose Heaney's great phrase about when "hope and history rhyme" from Heaney's play "Cure at Troy" in his speech in Londonderry, and went on to use it for the title of his book detailing his vision of the USA in the 21st Century.
"Northern Ireland is famous for producing great poets: John Hewitt, Louis MacNeice, Paul Muldoon, Michael Longley to name but a few. Heaney stands out head and shoulders above them all, figuratively and literally.
"I shall never forget Heaney and Longley performing with the Ulster Orchestra as part of the 2009 Belfast Festival at Queens. At the interval, a woman leapt from the front row, too late to stop Seamus Heaney, but in time to catch Michael Longley's attention. 'Michael, Michael' she said, offering up a book of poems 'Do me a favour and ask Seamus to sign that for me please!" It was of course a book of Heaney poetry.
"The rest are very good, but Seamus Heaney was better. We must mark his memory and contribution in a fitting manner, but first we should recognise the loss to his family, to whom I extend my condolences."