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Paddy Devlin (8 March 1925 – 15 August 1999) was an Irish social democrat and Labour activist, a former Stormont MP, a founder of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive.
Devlin was born in the Pound Loney in the Lower Falls in West Belfast on 8 March 1925 and lived in the city for almost all his life. His mother was a leading activist in Joe Devlin's (no relation) Nationalist Party machine in the Falls area and Devlin grew up in a highly political household. However his early activism was confined to Fianna Éireann and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and as a result he was interned in Crumlin Road Gaol during the Second World War. On his release he left the republican movement.
After the war, and in search of work, he spent some time in Portsmouth working as a scaffolder and in Coventry working in the car industry. In Coventry he became interested in Labour and trade union politics and briefly joined the British Labour Party.
Returning to Belfast in 1948 he helped establish the Irish Labour Party there after the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) split on the issue of partition and later he beat Gerry Fitt to win a seat on the city council. Later Catholic Action claimed the Irish Labour Party was infested with communists and ensured the party were effectively wiped out and Devlin lost his seat.
In the mid 1960s Devlin joined the revived NILP and beat Harry Diamond for the Falls seat in Stormont. Devlin then went on, with Fitt, John Hume, Austin Currie and others to found the SDLP in 1970. He was 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 was a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 1973 and Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from 1 January 1974 to 28 May 1974.
In 1978 he established the United Labour Party, which aimed to be a broad based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stood under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but polled just 6,122 first preferences (1.1% of those cast) and thereby lost his deposit.
In 1987 he, together with remnants of the NILP and others, established 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 met with little or no success. In 1985 he lost his place on Belfast City council.
Devlin suffered from severe diabetes and throughout the 1990s suffered a series of ailments as his health and sight collapsed.
Devlin, like Fitt, was a Labour man first and foremost and deeply distrusted John Hume and others in the SDLP who he regarded as nationalists and not social democrats. Hume and others saw him as too forgiving of police, but not the British Army, as Devlin supported a motion tabled at the SDLP's annual conference in 1976 for British withdrawal. The motion, also supported by Ivan Cooper, Seamus Mallon, and Paddy Duffy, but opposed by Party leader Gerry Fitt, John Hume and Austin Currie, was defeated by 153 votes to 111. Devlin also spoke out against the assassination of Irish National Liberation Army chief Ronnie Bunting in 1980, commonly attributed to an Ulster Defence Association hit squad, but which Devlin always believed was carried out by an 'SAS type' unit with British Security force involvement.
Devlin saw the SDLP as a body to unite Catholic and Protestant workers and so transcend the traditional sectarian divisions of the north of Ireland through socialist politics. Others saw him as overly aggressive and forceful. In his autobiography Straight Left he accused Hume of seeking to make the SDLP just another nationalist party and while not regretting his expulsion (following a public attack on the party's direction) from the SDLP in 1977 called the dispute that led him to leave "a most unworthy squabble" and concedes "I was not the innocent party". "No one's talking to (Protestants) about the price of a loaf of bread or how much it takes to pay the rent," he said in a 1995 interview. "No one has had any regard for the majority of people here, the Protestants. ... We've scarcely recognized them."
Outside of party politics, Devlin spent his later years as Area Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. His knowledge of the Industrial Relations Order (Northern Ireland 1976) was extensive. He wrote an acclaimed study (his MSc thesis) of the 1935 Outdoor Relief Riots in Belfast, published as Yes We Have No Bananas in 1985.
- 'Sinn Féin and the SDLP: From Alienation To Participation', (O'Brien Press, Dublin, 1995), pp.56–7. by Gerard Murray and Jonathan Tonge
- 'The Dirty War', (Arrow, London, 1991), p.293.
|Parliament of Northern Ireland|
|Member of Parliament for Belfast Falls
Position prorogued 1972
Parliament Abolished 1973
|Party political offices|
|Chairman of the Northern Ireland Labour Party