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Sean Morrissey, leading trade unionist and civil rights activist, dies at 94

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 12/01/2016

Sean and Catherine Morrissey
Sean and Catherine Morrissey
Poet Sinead Morrissey, granddaughter of Sean and Catherine Morrissey

One of Northern Ireland's leading trade unionists and civil rights activists has died.

Belfast man Sean Morrissey was at the centre of the city's turbulent social and political history during the Ulster Workers Council strike in 1974, which led to the fall of the first power-sharing executive set up by the Sunningdale Agreement.

He died last week at the age of 94.

Mr Morrissey was the grandfather of acclaimed poet and academic Sinead Morrissey, Belfast's first poet laureate and winner of the prestigious TS Eliot prize.

She recalled that during her childhood her grandfather would take her to regular Communist Party meetings and events. Her parents - father Michael was Mr Morrissey's son - were also committed communists.

Her grandfather was an executive member of the Communist Party in Northern Ireland and was invited to the Soviet Union by the Kremlin for a four-week holiday in 1974 and again in the 1980s.

Her father also made trips to the Soviet Union in 1969 and 1989.

The poet undertook a three-week visit to Russia in 2014 to retrace the footstep of her relatives, particularly her grandfather, when she was 42, the same age as he was on one of the visits with his wife Catherine, who pre-deceased him. Russian imagery is a feature in the poet's work.

As a trade unionist, Mr Morrissey was involved in fighting for workers' rights and was education officer for the Transport and General Workers Union for many decades.

He was heavily involved in the civil rights movement and was secretary of the Turf Lodge Tenants organisation. He was picked up in the first wave of internment in 1971. It's understood he was a member of the IRA in the 1950s.

A statement from the Communist Party of Ireland said yesterday: "It is with great sadness that the Commun­ist Party of Ireland announces the death of our dear comrade Sean Morrissey, who died early in January 2016.

"He was a former member of the national execu­tive com­mittee of the CPI, an officer in the ATGWU, a community and tenants' leader and a civil rights activ­ist.

"We will remember him for the stalwart and warm person that he was, and in his memory we will carry on the struggle for a better world."

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