Former SDLP South Down MP Eddie McGrady dies

The BBC's Shane Harrison looks back at Eddie McGrady's long political career

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The former SDLP MP for South Down, Eddie McGrady, has died.

Mr McGrady, who was 78 and had been ill for some time, was an MP from 1987 until his retirement in 2010. He was a founding member of the SDLP.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said Mr McGrady's politics "were the politics of fair play, of social justice, reconciliation and general decency".

He said there was "not a sectarian bone in his body".

Mr McGrady's funeral will take place on Thursday 14 November at 10:00 GMT at St Patrick's Church, Downpatrick.

One of 11 children, Mr McGrady was born in Market Street in Downpatrick, County Down, where his father ran a clothing shop.

A former chartered accountant, he sat on Downpatrick Urban council in the 1960s and early 1970s, and then on Down District Council until 1989.

He was also a member of the Northern Ireland assemblies in existence in the 1970s and 1980s, and a member of the current assembly between 1998 and 2003.

Start Quote

"Eddie was an inspiration to a generation of politicians and a true advocate for the community of South Down”

End Quote Margaret Ritchie South Down MP

Mr McGrady gained national prominence on election night in 1987, when - at his fourth attempt - he defeated Enoch Powell, who had been Ulster Unionist MP for South Down since 1974.

As an MP he was known as an opponent of the Sellafield nuclear plant and a defender of the Downe Hospital.

'Great champion'

Dr McDonnell said he was deeply saddened by his death.

"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," he said.

"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."

Mr Hume said he was "extremely sad to learn of the death of my dear friend".

He added: "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.

"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."

Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie, who succeeded Mr McGrady as South Down MP, said: "Eddie was not only my mentor and colleague but a very dear friend.

"Eddie was an inspiration to a generation of politicians and a true advocate for the community of South Down."

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt paid tribute to "a popular politician whose appeal crossed the traditional divide".

Saddened

He said: "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.

"Eddie, of course, was a political opponent who took a Westminster seat off us, winning South Down at the fourth attempt in 1987.

"Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues in the SDLP."

Sinn Féin South Down MLA, Caitriona Ruane, said she was saddened to hear of Mr McGrady's death.

Ms Ruane said: "Eddie always treated me with kindness and respect and I would like to acknowledge his work for all the people of south Down."

DUP South Down MLA Jim Wells described Mr McGrady as "a true gentleman".

He added: "He was a tireless campaigner for the people of south Down and his passing will be felt by people from right across the community.

"I stood against Eddie in a number of elections and results demonstrated his popularity within the constituency."

'Real decency'

Alliance leader David Ford said: "As a councillor, MLA and then MP for South Down, 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."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said Mr McGrady would be "sadly missed", and added: "He was a staunch advocate of constitutional politics and was an instrumental figure in the negotiations that ultimately led to the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

"He reflected that the Agreement was one of the high points of his time in politics. He was widely regarded as a man of real decency and commitment to the public good."

Ivan Lewis, the shadow secretary of state, said: "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."

Mr McGrady's wife of more than 20 years, Patricia, passed away in 2003. They are survived by their three children - Paula, Jerry and Conaill.

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