[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK
First SDLP leader Lord Fitt dies
Lord Fitt died at a relative's home in England
The former SDLP leader Lord Gerry Fitt has died at a relative's home in England.

Lord Fitt, 79, who suffered from a heart condition, had been in declining health for several months.

He had lived in England for many years. His wife, Anne, died in 1996 after contracting MRSA in a London hospital.

In his heyday, he was the dominant voice of nationalism, but his outspoken criticism of republican violence lost him votes and his Westminster seat.

He was one of the co-founders of the SDLP in 1970, by which time he had won seats in Westminster, the Stormont assembly and the old Belfast corporation.

He came to world attention on 5 October 1968 when, as an elected official, he was among the civil rights marchers beaten by police.

He was a passionate defender of the socially and economically disadvantaged
Danny Kennedy

Images of Fitt, his forehead and shirt blood-stained, went around the globe.

He went on to forge a power-sharing compromise following the Sunningdale agreement.

He quit the leadership of the SDLP in 1979.

The current SDLP leader Mark Durkan said Lord Fitt would be fondly remembered for his role in the Civil Rights Movement and his work as the MP for West Belfast at Westminster.

"He will also be remembered for his role in the Sunningdale Agreement and in helping to lead the power-sharing executive - a model which was opposed by others who now 30 years later claim to accept similar principles," he said.

"People will remember his sense of humour, his devilment. He had all sorts of stories from his seafaring days and was a character who could tell a great story."
Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern said Lord Fitt had a "long and brave career"

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain described Lord Fitt as a "courageous politician" who fought against all forms of injustice and showed "unrelenting opposition to violence".

"A true democrat, grounded in his working class roots, he always championed the rights of the most vulnerable in society and often at great personal cost to himself and family," said Mr Hain.

Irish Premier Bertie Ahern said Lord Fitt had made a very significant contribution to constitutional politics and civil rights in Northern Ireland.

He added: "He was a man who practised the message of moderation and tolerance that he courageously preached.

"He was often in the front line of the Troubles and he experienced violence at first hand from both sides of the divide in the north."

DUP leader Ian Paisley expressed his sadness at the news of Lord Fitt's death.

'Passionate defender'

"I am very sorry to hear of the passing of Gerry Fitt today. I extend to his family circle and friends my sincere sympathy at this sad time," he said.

He had the courage to pursue a democratic nationalist agenda
Steve, UK

UUP deputy leader Danny Kennedy said he would be "respected and remembered for his consistent opposition to the Provisional movement and their terrorist campaign".

"As a parliamentaria, many unionists will always remember him for his opposition, in the House of Lords, to the changing of the RUC's name," he said.

The former Ulster Unionist deputy leader, Lord Kilclooney, said he was saddened at the death of his old political rival.

Lord Kilclooney, who was a member of the 1974 power-sharing executive, described Lord Fitt as a "wonderful character".

"Some politicians you cannot trust, but with Gerry you could always trust him," he said.

"He had a great sense of humour, very mischievous at times."

Catholic Primate of Ireland Archbishop Sean Brady said Lord Fitt played a "vital role at a critical stage in the search for justice and civil rights."

"Always a courageous opponent of violence, he served people from all sections of the community at no small sacrifice to himself," he said.

The Methodist President Reverend Jim Rea said Lord Fitt had served people from every background.

"He was one who was vocal in his opposition to violence and when it literally came to his own door-step he showed immense courage," he said.

Key moments in Lord Fitt's career

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific