Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Eddie McGrady: A soft-spoken champion of reconciliation, social justice and decency

Alex Attwood with Eddie McGrady in 2011
Alex Attwood with Eddie McGrady in 2011

Former MP Eddie McGrady, who has died after an illness, was known as an old-style SDLP politician who helped to launch the nationalist party successfully during a period of great community tension. He was 78.

He was also a soft-spoken and gentle man who won the respect of all sides, and one of the achievements of which he was most proud was being part of the SDLP team which helped produce the Good Friday Agreement.

A well-liked and effective constituency politician, representing South Down at Westminster, he was an implacable opponent of the Sellafield nuclear power plant just across the Irish Sea from his constituency.

He was one of 11 children and was born in Downpatrick. He was educated at the local St Patrick's Grammar School and later at Belfast Technical College.

He qualified as a chartered accountant, but his major interest was politics.

In 1961 he became an independent member of Downpatrick Urban Council, and he was chairman for several years from 1964, and later chairman of Down District Council.

In 1970 he was one of the founder members, and the first chairman, of the SDLP, and he was elected to Stormont where he served in the assemblies which were established in 1973, 1975, and 1982. He also served at Stormont in the later Assembly which was formed after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

In the power-sharing Executive of 1973 he became head of the Department of Executive Planning and Co-ordination, and he was known for his even-handedness and dedication to duty. He was also a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

In 1987 Eddie McGrady made national headlines by defeating the sitting South Down MP Enoch Powell at the fourth attempt, and took his moderate nationalist viewpoint into the heart of Westminster.

However, he was always at pains to emphasise that Irish unity or confederation could only be achieved with the agreement of all sides, and that unionists could not and should not be coerced into such a development.

As South Down MP he was a staunch defender of the Downe Hospital and campaigned vigorously for its retention.

In 2010 he stood down as a Westminster MP, but continued for some years as chairman of the local branch of the SDLP.

The current SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, in paying tribute, said that "there was not a sectarian bone in his body" and that his politics "were the politics of fair play, of social justice, reconcilation and general decency".

Mr O'Grady was pre-deceased by his wife Patricia, and he is survived by his children Paula, Jerry and Conaill, and by his wider family and friends.

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