seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Northern Ireland Politician Gerry Fitt

Gerard Fitt, Northern Ireland politician, is born in Belfast on April 9, 1926. He is a founder and the first leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a social democratic and Irish nationalist party.

Fitt is educated at a local Christian Brothers school in Belfast. He joins the Merchant Navy in 1941 and serves on convoy duty during World War II. His elder brother Geordie, an Irish Guardsman, is killed at the Battle of Normandy.

Living in the nationalist Beechmount neighbourhood of the Falls, he stands for the Falls as a candidate for the Dock Labour Party in a city council by-election in 1956, but loses to Paddy Devlin of the Irish Labour Party, who later becomes his close ally. In 1958, he is elected to Belfast City Council as a member of the Irish Labour Party.

In 1962, he wins a seat in the Parliament of Northern Ireland from the Ulster Unionist Party, becoming the only Irish Labour member. Two years later, he left Irish Labour and joined with Harry Diamond, the sole Socialist Republican Party Stormont MP, to form the Republican Labour Party. At the 1966 general election, Fitt won the Belfast West seat in the Westminster parliament.

Many sympathetic British Members of Parliament (MPs) are present at a civil rights march in Derry on October 5, 1968 when Fitt and others are beaten by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Fitt also supports the 1969 candidacy of Bernadette Devlin in the Mid Ulster by-election who runs as an anti-abstentionist ‘Unity‘ candidate. Devlin’s success greatly increases the authority of Fitt in the eyes of many British commentators, particularly as it produces a second voice on the floor of the British House of Commons who challenge the Unionist viewpoint at a time when Harold Wilson and other British ministers are beginning to take notice.

In August 1970, Fitt becomes the first leader of a coalition of civil rights and nationalist leaders who create the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). By this time Northern Ireland is charging headlong towards near-civil war and the majority of unionists remain hostile.

After the collapse of Stormont in 1972 and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 Fitt becomes deputy chief executive of the short-lived Power-Sharing Executive created by the Sunningdale Agreement.

Fitt becomes increasingly detached from both his own party and also becomes more outspoken in his condemnation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He becomes a target for republican sympathisers in 1976 when they attack his home. He becomes disillusioned with the handling of Northern Ireland by the British government. In 1979, he abstains from a crucial vote in the House of Commons which brings down the Labour government, citing the way that the government had failed to help the nationalist population and tried to form a deal with the Ulster Unionist Party.

In 1979, Fitt is replaced by John Hume as leader of the SDLP and he leaves the party altogether after he agrees to constitutional talks with British Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins without any provision for an ‘Irish dimension’ and then sees his decision overturned by the SDLP party conference. Like Paddy Devlin before him, he claims the SDLP has ceased to be a socialist force.

In 1981, he opposes the hunger strikes in the Maze prison in Belfast. His seat in Westminster is targeted by Sinn Féin as well as by the SDLP. In June 1983, he loses his seat in Belfast West to Gerry Adams, in part due to competition from an SDLP candidate. The following month, on October 14, 1983, he is created a UK life peer as Baron Fitt, of Bell’s Hill in County Down. His Belfast home is firebombed a month later and he moves to London.

Gerry Fitt dies in London on August 26, 2005, at the age of 79, after a long history of heart disease.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Death of Paddy Devlin, Northern Ireland Labour Activist

paddy-devlinPaddy Devlin, Irish social democrat and Labour activist, former Stormont Member of Parliament (MP), a founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive, dies in Belfast’s Mater Hospital on August 15, 1999 after a long illness.

Devlin is born into a highly political household in the Pound Loney in the Lower Falls of West Belfast on March 8, 1925 and lives in the city for almost all his life. His early activism is confined to Fianna Éireann and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and as a result he is interned in Crumlin Road Gaol during the World War II. He leaves the republican movement upon his release.

After the war, and in search of work, he spends some time in Portsmouth working as a scaffolder and in Coventry working in the car industry. In Coventry he becomes interested in Labour and trade union politics and briefly joins the British Labour Party.

Returning to Belfast in 1948 Devlin helps establish the Irish Labour Party there after the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) splits on the issue of partition. He later beats Gerry Fitt to win a seat on the city council. Later Catholic Action claims the Irish Labour Party is infested with communists and ensures the party is effectively wiped out causing Devlin to lose his seat.

In the mid 1960s Devlin joins the revived NILP and beats Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then goes on, with Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie, and others to found the SDLP in 1970. He is later involved, at the request of William Whitelaw, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in ensuring safe passage for Gerry Adams for talks with the British government in 1973. He is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1973 and Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from January 1, 1974 to May 28, 1974.

In 1978 Devlin establishes the United Labour Party, which aims to be a broad based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stands under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but polls just 6,122 first preferences (1.1% of those cast) and thereby loses his deposit.

In 1987 Devlin, together with remnants of the NILP and others, establishes Labour ’87 as another attempt at building a Labour Party in Northern Ireland by uniting the disparate groups supporting labour and socialist policies but it too meets with little or no success. In 1985 he loses his place on Belfast City council.

Devlin suffers from severe diabetes and throughout the 1990s suffers a series of ailments as his health and sight collapse.


Leave a comment

Birth of Paddy Devlin, Founder of the SDLP

paddy-devlinPaddy Devlin, Irish social democrat and Labour activist, former Stormont Member of Parliament (MP), founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive, is born in West Belfast on March 8, 1925.

Devlin lives almost all his life in Belfast and grows up in a highly political household. His early activism is confined to Fianna Éireann and later the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As a result, he is interned in Crumlin Road Gaol during World War II. He leaves the republican movement upon his release.

After the war he spends some time in Portsmouth and Coventry, where he becomes interested in Labour and trade union politics and briefly joins the British Labour Party. Devlin returns to Belfast in 1948 and helps establish the Irish Labour Party  after the split of the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP). He later defeats Gerry Fitt to win a seat on the city council. Later Catholic Action claims the Irish Labour Party is infested with communists which effectively wipes out the party and Devlin loses his seat.

In the mid 1960s, Devlin joins the revived NILP and beats Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then joins Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie, and others to found the SDLP in 1970. At the request of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw in 1973, he becomes involved in ensuring safe passage for Gerry Adams to talks with the British government.

Devlin is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 and Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from January 1, 1974 to May 28, 1974.

In 1978, Devlin establishes the United Labour Party, which aims to be a broad-based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stands under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but polls just 6,122 first preferences and thereby loses his deposit.

In 1987, Devlin and remnants of the NILP and others, establish Labour ’87 as another attempt at building a Labour Party in Northern Ireland by uniting the disparate groups supporting labour and socialist policies but it is met with little or no success. In 1985 he loses his seat on the Belfast City council.

Devlin suffers from severe diabetes and throughout the 1990s suffers a series of ailments as his health and sight collapse. Devlin dies at the age of 74 on August 15, 1999.