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Tributes paid after civil rights founder O'Hagan dies at 81

By Ivan Little

Published 11/05/2015

Veteran: Des O’Hagan
Veteran: Des O’Hagan
A crowd of students pictured at a meeting with Ian Paisley (centre) near Belfast City Hall. 9/10/1968.
The Civil Rights mural in the Bogside.
Banned Derry Civil Rights march broken up by RUC batons in presence of Gerry Fitt MP, three British Labour MPs and television crew. Two nights of rioting ensued. 5/10/1968.
CIVIL RIGHTS PROTEST: PEOPLE'S DEMOCRACY. First protest march to Belfast city centre. A crowd of students pictured at a meeting with Ian Paisley (centre) near Belfast City Hall. 9/10/1968.
Banned Derry Civil Rights march broken up by RUC batons in presence of Gerry Fitt MP, three British Labour MPs and television crew. Two nights of rioting ensued. 5/10/1968.
John Hume is detained by soldiers during a civil rights protest in Londonderry in August 1971.
Banned Derry Civil Rights march broken up by RUC batons in presence of Gerry Fitt MP, three British Labour MPs and television crew. Two nights of rioting ensued. 5/10/1968.
John Hume is detained by soldiers during a civil rights protest in Londonderry in August 1971.
The start of a grim day in Derry. Civil Rights marchers make their way through Creggan. They defied a Government ban and headed for Guildhall Square, but were stopped by the Army in William Street. 31/1/1972
Bloody sunday in Derry 1972 when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a banned Civil Rights march through the city.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY MP.Ian Paisley confronts an RUC officer when refused access to Duke Street where the Civil Rights parade went on. 10/10/1988

Tributes have been paid to a veteran republican who was a founder of the civil rights movement and the Workers Party who has died at the age of 81.

Dessie O'Hagan, a former IRA man and internee, passed away in hospital on the 34th anniversary of the death of hunger striker Bobby Sands.

O'Hagan was born and raised in the lower Falls area of Belfast in a family steeped in socialism.

His grandfather was prominent in the 1907 Belfast dock strike organised by trade union leader Jim Larkin and there were also family associations with James Connolly, a socialist leader in the 1916 Easter Rising.

O'Hagan joined the IRA in Belfast at the age of 15. He later served four years in Crumlin Road jail for trying to help a prisoner escape from a hospital where he was waiting for an operation.

O'Hagan said it was in jail that he immersed himself in politics and realised that violence was wrong.

On his release he studied at the London School of Economics and graduated in 1965 before returning to a job in Stranmillis College in Belfast.

He rejoined the IRA but in 1967 became a driving force in the fledgling Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA).

O'Hagan helped organise demonstrations and in later interviews described NICRA as a "serious political machine".

This probably accounted for his internment in August 1971. His letters documenting the ill-treatment of Long Kesh inmates were smuggled out of the camp and serialised in the Irish Times.

John Hume is detained by soldiers during a civil rights protest in Londonderry in August 1971.
John Hume is detained by soldiers during a civil rights protest in Londonderry in August 1971.
John Hume is detained by soldiers during a civil rights protest in Londonderry in August 1971.
A crowd of students pictured at a meeting with Ian Paisley (centre) near Belfast City Hall. 9/10/1968.
The Civil Rights mural in the Bogside.
Banned Derry Civil Rights march broken up by RUC batons in presence of Gerry Fitt MP, three British Labour MPs and television crew. Two nights of rioting ensued. 5/10/1968.
CIVIL RIGHTS PROTEST: PEOPLE'S DEMOCRACY. First protest march to Belfast city centre. A crowd of students pictured at a meeting with Ian Paisley (centre) near Belfast City Hall. 9/10/1968.
Banned Derry Civil Rights march broken up by RUC batons in presence of Gerry Fitt MP, three British Labour MPs and television crew. Two nights of rioting ensued. 5/10/1968.
Banned Derry Civil Rights march broken up by RUC batons in presence of Gerry Fitt MP, three British Labour MPs and television crew. Two nights of rioting ensued. 5/10/1968.
The start of a grim day in Derry. Civil Rights marchers make their way through Creggan. They defied a Government ban and headed for Guildhall Square, but were stopped by the Army in William Street. 31/1/1972
Bloody sunday in Derry 1972 when members of the parachute regiment opened fire on a banned Civil Rights march through the city.
REVEREND IAN PAISLEY MP.Ian Paisley confronts an RUC officer when refused access to Duke Street where the Civil Rights parade went on. 10/10/1988

After his release he became the director of education for the Official wing of republicanism - renamed the Workers Party in 1982 - and he travelled to the Soviet Union.

However, at home he rued the growing rifts within his organisation. O'Hagan - nicknamed the Red Devil because of his opposition to the Catholic Church - gave graveside orations at the funerals of Workers Party members such as David Nocher who was killed by the UVF in Newtownabbey in 1983.

But David Ervine - a former UVF man himself and later an MLA, PUP leader and a political adviser to the loyalist terror group - would later forge a link with O'Hagan.

The republican once described the east Belfast loyalist politician in an interview as "a good fellow" who identified with his anti-sectarian and socialist ideals.

In a statement, the Workers Party described O'Hagan as a Marxist intellectual, author, political activist and polemicist who had "dedicated his life to class politics".

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