This evening veteran politician and SDLP founder Eddie McGrady passed away aged 78.
His South Down successor Margaret Ritchie paid tribute to her “mentor and colleague [and] a very good friend”:
Eddie was an inspiration to a generation of politicians and a true advocate for the community of South Down.
Eddie was a great campaigner and he gave his and future generations the confidence that politics and campaigning can bring about change locally and regionally through his role in the peace process.
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said that “with the death of the veteran politician Ireland had lost a person of faith and integrity”. The MP described his colleague as “a great patriot and a great democrat”.
Today, the SDLP has lost one of its founding pillars. County Down has lost a great champion and Ireland has lost a person of faith and integrity who enhanced public life in a political career that lasted almost half a century. As a founding member of the SDLP, Eddie helped to shape not only our party, but history, as he along with John Hume, Seamus Mallon and others helped to define the politics of an era and build the peace of our lifetime.
Last weekend’s SDLP conference was only the second ever that Eddie McGrady had missed. Alasdair McDonnell broke away from his script and spoke emotionally during his Saturday lunchtime address, finishing with a message to the young members at conference from the SDLP veteran’s hospital bed. While the senior politicians could reorganise and reposition the party leader explained that told him “the real challenge falls to today’s twenty five or thirty year olds who must pick up the gauntlet and rise to the challenge of finishing the job. That job was creating a New Ireland, prosperous and at peace with itself”. Eddie McGrady said
Don’t worry about me. Don’t mourn for me. Don’t cry for me. Just get out there and finish the job.
Former leader John Hume paid tribute to his “dear friend”:
Eddie was a man of deep faith incredible fortitude and considerable courage. He brought a sharp political instinct to all his work displaying both talent and tenacity throughout a distinguished career stretching 50 years in public service. He will be rightfully remembered for his 1987 election victory over Enoch Powell but we should not forget his unswerving devotion to peace and his substantial contribution towards the new beginning to policing. Eddie served the constituency of South Down which he loved with distinction but above all Eddie was a family man happiest at his home in Saul in Downpatrick.
Eddie McGrady was predeceased by his wife Patricia in 2003. Margaret Ritchie extended her sympathy to “his daughter Paula, sons Jerome and Conaill , his sister Marie, his brother Malachy and wider family circle”.
Tributes have been given by other politicians and political parties:
- Mike Nesbitt/UUP leader: “Eddie McGrady, Seamus Mallon and John Hume were a formidable team at a time when Northern Ireland needed strong leadership from both communities speaking out loudly against violence …He was a popular politician whose appeal crossed the traditional divide. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour Party.”
- Ivan Lewis/Labour shadow Secretary of State: “Eddie McGrady was a tireless campaigner for social justice and peace in Northern Ireland. His beliefs and political leadership played a crucial role in helping to lay the foundations for the peace process. He was a great colleague and friend of many in the Labour Party and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”
- Chris Hazzard/Sinn Fein: “Thoughts with Eddie McGrady’s family & friends on their sad loss today – I appreciated his kind words when I last met him in Downpatrick”
- John McCallister/NI21: “Very sad to hear of Eddie McGrady’s passing. A true gentleman an honour and pleasure to know. He made a huge contribution to South Down and NI.”
- Christopher Stalford/DUP councillor: “Saddened to hear of the passing of Eddie McGrady. He was a hard worker and a gentle personality. My sympathies to his friends and colleagues.”
- Trevor Ringland/NI Conservatives co-chair: “Eddie McGrady was a faithful servant to people right across the community and a fearless proponent of constitutional politics, at a time when violent ideologies were emerging in Northern Ireland” adding “Northern Ireland badly needs the type of politician who works for everyone in our community, whatever their preference for the constitutional future here. Eddie McGrady will be remembered and respected for his contribution in that regard and his public service.”
- Gerry Adams/Sinn Fein president: “Sad sceal Eddie McGrady. RIP. Go ndeanfaidh Dia trocaire air.”
- David Ford/Alliance leader: “I was very saddened to learn of the passing of Eddie McGrady, who fought hard to bring an end to violence in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The well-known MP was a fierce critic of those who used violence and murder as a means to delivering their political objectives … Mr McGrady worked hard for all his constituents. His tireless work went a great way to calming tensions in the area, helping create the more stable, peaceful Northern Ireland we have all experienced in recent years. His contribution to Northern Ireland politics has been great, both as a campaigner for peace and the desire to make a difference to the lives of those he represented.”
- Jim Allister/TUV leader: “Condolences to Eddie McGrady’s family on his passing. Any dealings I had with him – mostly on fishing issues when MEP – he was very civil.”