Gerry Fitt is laid to rest

His funeral took place today at Westminster Cathedral in central London. In the Guardian’s report it only mentions the presence of prominent figures from the UUP (Trimble) and SDLP (Durkan and Hume) – are we to assume that no-one from SF or the DUP attended?

Rivals unite in tribute to Lord Fitt

Press Association
Wednesday August 31, 2005

Figures from across Northern Ireland’s political divide gathered today to pay their respects to former Social Democratic and Labour party (SDLP) leader Lord Fitt.

Among the unionists and nationalists gathered for his funeral at London’s Westminster Cathedral were the joint Nobel Peace Prize winners, Ulster Unionist David Trimble and the SDLP’s John Hume.

Also present was Mark Durkin, the current leader of the party Lord Fitt once led.

The peer, who died at the age of 79 last week after suffering from a heart condition, helped found the Social Democratic Labour party in 1970 with civil rights and nationalist leaders from the province.

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A fierce opponent of terrorism and social injustice alike, Gerry Fitt served as deputy chief executive of Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing executive in 1974.

He continued to lead the party after the executive – formed out of the 1973 Sunningdale agreement – collapsed after just five months, brought down by a loyalist workers’ strike.

But in 1979 he dramatically quit his own party after it turned down an offer of talks by the then Conservative government because the agenda did not contain an Irish dimension.

His departure followed a period of growing disillusionment with the party which he accused of becoming “green”, moving away from the socialism which was Fitt’s guiding influence.

His political low point came in 1983 when, two years after refusing to support IRA hunger strikers, he lost the West Belfast seat at Westminster, which he had held since 1966, to Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams.

Having been wounded by RUC police in a civil rights march in 1968, he found himself burnt-out of his north Belfast home by republicans in 1983.

Today he was honoured both by the party from which he had become estranged and rivals from across the political spectrum.

Mr Durkin was among those who paid tribute to the former party leader.

Speaking just before the service he said: “People who were in the party with him during those years have fond memories of good work together in difficult times.

“Obviously there was subsequent differences but we are here to remember a man who contributed positively, a man of warmth and wit.”

The service, filled with Irish music and poetry, opened as hundreds of mourners sang the ancient hymn Be Thou My Vision.

Another hymn, Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace, continued the theme of peace and justice spoken of in the tributes.

Among those in the congregation were representatives of the British and Irish governments, MPs including Ulster-born Kate Hoey, and celebrities including the television presenter Henry Kelly and comedian Frank Carson.

Readings included a passage from the Book of Wisdom, read by his daughter, Eileen, which included the line: “The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God and no torment will ever touch them.”

There was also a reading of The Lake Isle of Innisfree by WB Yates and a violin performance of Danny Boy.

But the lightest moment came during a tribute from the journalist Chris Ryder, a close friend, who told of one incident on a flight from London to Belfast when Lord Fitt managed to persuade the crew to let him take the last available seat – the jump seat in the cockpit.

Mr Ryder told the congregation: “When he emerged through the door in mid-flight to visit the lavatory, there in the front row was an astonished Reverend Ian Paisley.

“‘Don’t worry, I’ve left it on automatic pilot,’ he told his great political rival as he pushed past.”

  • Paul W

    I was at the service in Westminster cathedral earlier today. Very moving, even if I am a sucker for rousing hymns and the sweet smell of incense.

    I didn’t recognise anyone with SF or DUP connections. Shaun Woodward and Conor Lenihan represented their Governments. I noticed Kevin Macnamara and it was announced that the survivors of the Stormont MPs who founded the SDLP were all present. Kate Hoey was accompanied by four large youngish men who looked more like Antrim Young Farmers than New Labour MPs.

    Four of Gerry’s grandchildren read bidding prayers, all seemed to have English accents.

    The Gospel was aptly chosen – St Mark 6: 1-6 – “The prophet is not without honour except in his own country ….”.

    The tributes were given by Chris Ryder (very fat) and Austin Currie. Ryder concentrated on personal reminiscences (the cockpit one was the best) while Currie ventured onto politics wearing green-coloured glasses. He concentrated on the Stormont era and reminded us how Gerry Fitt used his dual mandate to force Westminster to take account of the situation in “John Bull’s political slum”. He had nothing to say though on Gerry’s later split with the SDLP and, more importantly, was not explicit on the reasons why he felt he had to make his home in England.

    But a fine tribute to a fine man. He fought one brand of Fascism in the 1940s while in the Merchant Navy and subsequently fought the Sinn Fein version.

  • Chris Gaskin

    “fought the Sinn Fein version.”

    His constituents in 1983 obviously didn’t agree

  • Comrade Stalin

    His former constituents in 1992 had a different view, one that made Sinn Fein look very silly.

  • Peter

    Paul W

    “He fought one brand of Fascism in the 1940s while in the Merchant Navy and subsequently fought the Sinn Fein version.”

    Hmmmmm. So he didn’t bother fighting Paisley and Loyalist fascism at all.

    Perhaps that’s where he went wrong….

    Luckily not everyone forgot the enormous contribution made by Loyalist fascists and their friends in the British Army:

    “The Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s report into collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries also found that military intelligence in Northern Ireland helped to prolong the Troubles”

    Stevens Report

  • Deaglan

    “…are we to assume that no-one from SF or the DUP attended? “

    Kate Hoey was there 😉

  • Baluba

    He came a long way from where the IRA gave him his first political job didn’t he?

    Slán go fóillín, a Gherry na díchéille.

  • PaulW

    A couple of other incidents from yesterday’s service:

    * David Trimble didn’t take up the offer to non-communicants to approach the altar rail for a blessing at Communion time;

    * In his tribute Austin Currie admitted that all Ulster politicans of his generation, including Gerry Fitt and himself, had instigated personation of the dead at elections.

  • TAFKABO

    “David Trimble didn’t take up the offer to non-communicants to approach the altar rail for a blessing at Communion time;”

    And?

  • reality check

    PaulW-a man who is critical of john hume for becoming too”green” and accepting the title of lord of bell hill,really fought facism in this country didn’t he?

    Regarding David Trimble I believe he’s still a member of the orange order and would have required special permission to go to the service let alone any blessings.Ditto Lord Laird

  • fitt_the_britt

    The man was an abject failure, an Uncle Tom and a traitor to his hard pressed community. The Brits recognized him for what he was, were grateful for his Quisling nature and awarded him his aristocratic title. Some socialst, some Irishman. He will be remembered by nationalists as a pathetic stage Irishman sitting at his master’s hand. RIP.

  • Jimmy_Sands

    The comments here may tell us very little about Gerry Fitt, but they speak volumes about his enemies.

  • Mike

    reality check –

    “a man who is critical of john hume for becoming too”green” and accepting the title of lord of bell hill,really fought facism in this country didn’t he?”

    Are you saying that promoting democratic socialism or ‘internal’ power-sharing ahead of nationalism, and sitting in the House of Lords, preculde someone from having ‘fought fascism’?

  • slug

    The SDLP have set up a web page dedicated to Gerry Fitt:

    SDLP Remembers Gerry Fitt

  • Labour in Waiting

    Gerry Fitt’s greatest achievement was his campaign in the late 1960s under the slogan ‘British rights for British citizens’. This forced the Westminster establishment, which had imposed the Stormont Government on Northern Ireland, to eventually and reluctantly take responsibility for implementing necessary reforms here.

    Of course, we still don’t have British rights in Northern Ireland. Because the Labour Party refuses to fight elections and seek a democratic mandate in Northern Ireland constituencies, we are still denied the right to vote for our Government. Even the citizens of the former Soviet Union and the Iraqis living under Saddam Hussein were allowed to do that.

    The Labour Party quite shamelessly suppresses Labour Party politics here, blatantly discriminating against everyone in Northern Ireland. In Gerry’s time the issue was the Unionist Party suppressing Sinn Fein/ Republican Clubs. Today, the Labour Party is still at it.

    Gerry Fitt publicly supported the campaign for the right to join the Labour Party. In doing so he was a true civil righter.

  • bertie

    Labour in waiting

    one day – one day

  • mickhall

    But a fine tribute to a fine man. He fought one brand of Fascism in the 1940s while in the Merchant Navy and subsequently fought the Sinn Fein version.

    Posted by: Paul W

    Hi all
    Up until the last paragraph Paul’s post was reasonable and informative then we get the usual bitter rubbish. To attempt to equate SF with Hitlerite fascism is so far from reality it is breath-taking. Yet a section of the Labour Party, both within Ireland and Britain, have attempted to do so since the Provos broke from the Sticks. Fascism is not a group of people doing nasty things one disagrees with, but the political system those with power, at times of great crises, use to maintain their wealth and power. Hence all talk of the Provisional movement being ‘green fascism’ is complete nonsense, as the PRM emerged from within the most oppressed section of Irish society. If we fail to understand what exactly Fascism is we will never be able to guard against it.

    To highlight im not trying to make a left wing point here, we on the left made this same mistake when we called Mrs Thatcher a fascist, when despite her dreadfulness she was no such thing. Although her support base was the same social class that historically has been the bedrock of support for Fascism, especially in Europe. [the lower middle and middle classes with a sprinkling of lumpen bully boys] Sort of reminds one of the DUPs support base, but no Paisleys party is not fascist either.

    regards to all

  • Keith M

    mickhall, rather than trying to define your own version of fascism, let’s look at the dictionary; “A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.”

    “A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator…” SF have thankfully never been in government anywhere but certainly the way that SF/IRA have dealth with opposing voices within their own community (including Gerry Fitt) certainly shows an authoritarian streak.

    “stringent socioeconomic controls”. Just check their manifesto.

    “suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship”. Again no contest on terror and also consider their attempts to gag those that oppose them.

    “and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.” No arguement on nationalism, and if “Brits Out” is racism, what else is it?

    QED SF/IRA are a facsist organisation. Facism isn’t just about neat uniforms and goosetepping your way around Europe.

  • TAFKABO

    fas·cism Audio pronunciation of “fascism” ( P ) Pronunciation Key (fshzm)
    n.

    1. often Fascism
    1. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
    2. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.
    2. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

    Hmmmm.

    If it looks like a duck, and goosesteps like a duck.

  • mickhall

    Keith,

    I do not understand the point you are making, I have never suggested Fascism is about neat uniforms etc, indeed this was partially my point when I pointed out the source of fascism. Without being rude perhaps you could deal with the points I made, i e fascism is a method of government ruling elites use at times of crisis to maintain their wealth and power when all other options are exhausted, plus the social composition of fascism core support base.

    All your quotations do is point out the nature of a Fascist government once it comes into power, incidentally it often bites the very hand that enabled it to do so by financing it.

    As I said just because a group of people do nasty things it does not make them fascist although they could be said to be behaving in a fascistic manner, which is something different altogether.

    Since WW2, many in the western media have portrayed the core support base of Fascism as being the working classes, this is especially true of the UK and Ireland, mainly to cover up the sins of the big European capitalists who supported the nazis, plus they do not wish to face the fact it was the mass of the comparatively well educated middle classes who voted Hitler into office.[what does this tell us about human nature] whereas in reality the bedrock of anti fascism has come from the working classes. In 1933 the German working class voted en mass against the Nazi Party, voting either for the SDP or the CP, the tragedy was these two parties refused to join together in a coalition, as their joint votes plus the smaller liberal middle class parties would have been just enough to defeat Hitler.

    It is also one of the main reasons for the failure of the BNP in Britain, as unlike its european counterparts, le Pen in France for example, the BNP have always aimed its propaganda at the WC hence their lack of success.

    All the best

  • mickhall

    I should have wrote SPD not SDP

  • bertie

    mickhall

    I am not unsympathetic to the point you are making. However I have no problem with calling SF/IRA facists. I do not mean that in an absolute literal sense. For many the word facist has come to be a metaphor for evil, dictatorship etc. and the phrase relates more to its tactics than its economic philosophy.

    Paul

    I envy you being there. There was not as much publicity about it over here. I didn’t realise that it would have been in London or i would have stirred myself earlier to find out where and when. I am nit the only one to have been caught out. However I’ve heard from others who did go. In some of the reports I have heard Currie was a bit political. Not a problem per se, but perhaps a bit more concerned with having a go at his (Currie’s) enemies than praising Gerry.

  • Alan

    Mick Hall,

    *As I said just because a group of people do nasty things it does not make them fascist although they could be said to be behaving in a fascistic manner, which is something different altogether.*

    What a load of semantic-twisting hogwash. So even if they act like fascists, grandma says you shouldn’t call them fascists because they aren’t run by a cartel of bandit capitalists – so how many smuggling millionaires sit on the Army Council?

    I also can’t respect turning thirty years of mayhem into *nasty things*. The core of the IRA and SF’s modus operandi for the bulk of the troubles has been using or apologising for violence and the threat of violence to achieve the ends designated by a small rump of unelected and unelectable individuals.

    The comparison with fascism is obvious for all but the terminally brainwashed. If you want to change the word to one with fewer connotations of excessive, inhumane bloodshed, then go ahead, but don’t expect others to carry your bags for you.

    I have no beef with non-violent republicans, but the militarists in the republican ranks are from the same mould as the Falangists, the Fascists and the other german ones that I won’t mention.

  • T.Ruth

    By any definition the IRA is a fascist organisation.By any examination of its activity it is clearly sectarian.Its long war against democracy has failed and our agony as a community will be alleviated when it disbands and when Sinn Fein develops the confidence to promote its political arguments by democratic and peaceful means.