SDLP members are saddened tonight at the death earlier today of Eddie McGrady, one of the first people to join the SDLP in 1970.
I had never formally met him, but can still recall the first occasion that I actually saw him.
The Falls Branch delegation arrived a little late to the 1973 SDLP Conference and Eddie (Chairman of the Party) was opening the Conference.
Eddie was a junior minister in the ill-fated Power-Sharing Executive, which only lasted six months, brought down by the continuing violence and the “Ulster Workers Strike”.
The son of a Nationalist politician, who had fought the (future) Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner in the 1949 Election in East Down for the Norn Iron Parliament….Eddie himself was defeated by Faulkner in 1969.
Eddie had broken with the Nationalist Party in the late 1950s. And was one of the key figures in the short-lived National Democrats, which sought to modernise Nationalist politics and unite the disparate strands such as the Nationalist Party and Republican Labour Party.
Ironically it was the “Crossroads Election” of January 1969 and the Troubles of August 1969, which led to the formation of the SDLP in 1970.
Established politicians, Gerry Fitt (Republican Labour) and Austin Currie (Nationalist) joined forces with Paddy Devlin (NILP) and newly elected Civil Righters, John Hume, Ivan Cooper and Paddy O’Hanlon and “senators” Claude Wilton (Liberal) and Paddy Wilson (Republican Labour) to form the SDLP.
Despite having no elected representatives, the National Democrats had an organisation of sorts and dissolved the NDP to throw their weight fully behind the new venture. It was Eddies NDP who provided the logistical support and established a SDLP brand, rather than a group of larger than life individuals.
Eddie fought three losing Westminster campaigns in South Down Enoch Powell, the English former Minister, whose racist views were too toxic for the Conservatives but actually embraced by the UUP.
Eddie defeated Powell in the 1987 Westminster General Election.And held the seat for the SDLP. He stood down at the 2010 General Election. His protege, Margaret Ritchie won the seat.
“Steady Eddie” was a key figure in SDLP History. Well respected by people in different parties…some of it will be genuine but we will have to endure the putrid hypocrisy of SDLP-hating websites like Slugger O’Toole. Look out for some of the usual name-dropping, mixing supposed praise with the usual dig at SDLP.
I did not know Eddie McGrady in any way. I probably never really “met” him. At party conferences over the past few years, he looked frail on occasions and his death after illness is expected.
Indeed his declining condition was referenced on occasions on Saturday at the SDLP Party Conference.
Alasdair McDonnell spoke of visiting him for the final time.
Eddies final message to SDLP.
“Dont mourn for me. Just go out and finish the job”
Rest in Peace.