Saturday 18 November 2017

Eddie McGrady

Co-founder of the SDLP who brought an end to Enoch Powell's career

Eddie McGrady, who died last Monday aged 78, was one of the leaders of non-violent nationalism in Northern Ireland for half-a-century.

He was founding chairman of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and a member of the power-sharing executive of 1974 and the post-Good Friday Agreement Assembly. For 23 years, he was MP for South Down, having captured the seat from Enoch Powell.

Working to overcome discrimination and build consensus, McGrady withstood pressure – and worse – from the IRA and its supporters.

He was respected on all sides for his decency, fairness and tenacity and played an important role in the negotiations leading to the Agreement of 1998.

Edward Kevin McGrady was born at Downpatrick, Co Down, on June 3, 1935, one of a shopkeeper's 11 children. After St Patrick's Grammar School, he trained in accountancy at Belfast Technical College, then joined the family practice, where he was a partner. He settled at Saul, two miles from Downpatrick.

McGrady was elected to Downpatrick council in 1961 as an independent. He chaired the council from 1964 to 1973, when he was elected to its successor, Down District Council. He served until 1989, chairing the council five times.

In the 1969 Stormont elections, just before the sectarian storm broke over the province, McGrady stood as a National Democrat at North Down against the sitting Unionist member and future Northern Ireland prime minister Brian Faulkner. A year later he co-founded the SDLP, bringing together several disparate strands of nationalism but at the outset refusing to follow Sinn Fein's boycott of all political institutions.

McGrady was elected the SDLP's first chairman in 1973 and the same year was elected for South Down to the new Assembly which Edward Heath's government – having abolished Stormont – hoped would become a vehicle for power-sharing. A power-sharing executive was indeed formed in January 1974, McGrady becoming Minister for Co-Ordination, but it was brought down later that year by a strike of loyalist workers.

He went on to serve in the abortive Constitutional Convention of 1975-76 and in 1979 fought the Westminster seat of South Down for the first time.

Powell, the incumbent, defeated him by 8,221 votes. From 1982 to 1986 McGrady served in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

McGrady almost unseated Powell in 1983, cutting his majority to 548. He lost ground in the 1986 by-election but in 1987, he ousted Powell by 731 votes, ending his remarkable career.

At Westminster, McGrady became whip to the small SDLP parliamentary group, a role that became important in 1993 during the cliffhanging votes on the Maastricht Treaty and subsequently when John Major's government saw its working majority eroded.

When a further assembly was elected in 1998 after the Good Friday Agreement, the SDLP was the third-largest party. He stood down in 2003 after one term.

From 2001 to 2005 he also served on the Northern Ireland Policing Board. He retired from the Commons at the 2010 election.

Eddie McGrady married Patricia Swail in 1959; she died in 2003. He is survived by two sons and a daughter.

Sunday Independent

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