seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield in Belfast

Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service who is later a member of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains and for a time Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner, is born in Belfast on April 15, 1931. He has also held a variety of public sector posts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

Bloomfield is born to English parents and grows up close to Neill’s Hill railway station. Between the years of 1943 and 1949, he attends the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and later goes on to read Modern History at St. Peter’s College, Oxford. On September 12, 1988, he and his wife are the targets of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack on their home in Crawfordsburn, County Down. Neither Bloomfield nor his wife are injured in the blast.

Having joined the Civil Service in 1952, Bloomfield is appointed Permanent Secretary to the power sharing executive in 1974. After the collapse of the executive, he goes on to become Permanent Secretary for the Department of the Environment and the Department of Economic Development, and finally Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service on December 1, 1984. In that capacity he is the most senior advisor to successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and other Ministers on a wide range of issues. He retires from the post in April 1991.

Since retiring from the Civil Service, Bloomfield has embarked on a life of involvement in a diverse range of organisations. He has taken up roles such as Chairman for the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and his alma mater, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He has also been involved in the political reform of the States of Jersey and spearheaded the Association for Quality Education, which is fighting to retain academic selection in the Northern Ireland education system. In December 1997 he is asked by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, to become the Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner for a fixed term. His role is to produce a report on the way forward for Victims issues in Northern Ireland. His report entitled We Will Remember Them is published in April 1998. From 1991 to 1999 he serves as the BBC‘s National Governor for Northern Ireland.

Bloomfield receives a Knighthood in the 1987 Queen’s Birthday Honours and honorary doctorates from Queen’s University, Belfast, the Open University and the Ulster University. He is also a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.


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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.


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The Good Friday Agreement Comes Into Operation

good-friday-agreement-signingThe Good Friday Agreement, a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process, comes into operation on December 2, 1999 as the British and Irish governments formally notify each other that all the necessary arrangements are in place.

The notification ceremony takes place at Iveagh House, St. Stephen’s Green, headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, at a joint signing by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade David Andrews and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson.

Northern Ireland‘s present devolved system of government is based on the agreement. The agreement also creates a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The agreement is made up of two inter-related documents, both agreed upon in Belfast on Good Friday, April 10, 1998. The first is a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland’s political parties. The second is an international agreement between the British and Irish governments, known as the British-Irish Agreement.

The agreement sets out a complex series of provisions, or strands, relating to a number of areas:

Strand 1 addresses the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and establishes two major institutions – the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive.

Strand 2 addresses the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the institutions to be created between them – the North/South Ministerial Council, the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association, and the North/South Consultative Forum.

Strand 3 addresses the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and institutions to be created between Ireland and Great Britain – the British/Irish Intergovernmental Conference, the British-Irish Council, and an expanded British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

Issues relating to sovereignty, civil and cultural rights, decommissioning of weapons, justice, and policing are central to the agreement.

The agreement is approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on May 22, 1998. In Northern Ireland, voters are asked whether they support the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters are asked whether they will allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes to facilitate it. The people of both jurisdictions need to approve the agreement in order to give effect to it.

The Good Friday Agreement comes into force on December 2, 1999. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement.

(Pictured: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Good Friday Agreement)


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The Remembrance Day Bombing

remembrance-day-bombingThe Remembrance Day bombing, also known as the Enniskillen bombing or Poppy Day massacre, takes place on November 8, 1987 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb explodes near the town’s war memorial during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony, which is being held to commemorate British military war dead. Eleven people, many of them old age pensioners, are killed and 63 are injured.

The bomb explodes as a parade of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers is making its way to the memorial and as people wait for the ceremony to begin. It blows out the wall of the Reading Rooms, where many of the victims are standing, burying them under rubble and hurling masonry towards the gathered crowd. Bystanders rush to free those trapped in the rubble.

Eleven people, all Protestant, are killed by the Provisional IRA that day, including three married couples. The dead are Wesley and Bertha Armstrong, Kitchener and Jessie Johnston, William and Agnes Mullan, John Megaw, Georgina Quinton, Marie Wilson, Samuel Gault, and Edward Armstrong. Armstrong is a serving Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer and Gault has recently left the force. Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie dies in the blast and who is himself injured, goes on to become a peace campaigner and member of Seanad Éireann. The twelfth fatality, Ronnie Hill, dies after spending 13 years in a coma. Sixty-three people are injured, including thirteen children. Ulster Unionist politicians Sam Foster and Jim Dixon are among the crowd. Dixon receives extensive head injuries but recovers. A local businessman captures the immediate aftermath of the bombing on video camera. His footage, showing the effects of the bombing, is broadcast on international television.

A few hours after the blast, the IRA calls a radio station and says it has abandoned a 150-pound bomb in Tullyhommon, twenty miles away, after it failed to detonate. That morning, a Remembrance Sunday parade, which includes many members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, has unwittingly gathered near the Tullyhommon bomb. Soldiers and RUC officers were also there, and the IRA says it attempted to trigger the bomb when soldiers were standing beside it. The bomb is defused by security forces and is found to have a command wire leading to a “firing point” across the border.

The IRA apologises, saying it had made a mistake and that the target had been the UDR soldiers who were parading to the memorial. The bombing leads to an outcry among politicians in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says, “It’s really desecrating the dead and a blot on mankind.” The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, denounces the “outrage” in the House of Commons, as does the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Lenihan, in Dáil Éireann. Seanad Éireann Senator Maurice Manning speaks of people’s “total revulsion.” It also facilitates the passing of the Extradition Act, which makes it easier to extradite IRA suspects from the Republic of Ireland to the United Kingdom.

The bombing is seen by many Northern Irish Protestants as an attack on them, and loyalist paramilitaries ″retaliate″ with attacks on Catholic civilians. The day after the bombing, five Catholic teenagers are wounded in a shooting in Belfast, and a Protestant teenager is killed by the Ulster Defence Association after being mistaken for a Catholic. In the week after the bombing, there are fourteen gun and bomb attacks on Catholics in Belfast.

The Remembrance Day bombing has been described as a turning point in the Troubles and an incident that shook the IRA “to its core.”


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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.