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Dungannon man Harry Stevenson was influential figure in both business and politics


Harry Stevenson

Harry Stevenson

Harry Stevenson

Harry Stevenson, the former Deputy Lieutenant for Co Tyrone and High Sheriff, and an influential figure in business and politics, has died. He was 94.

Henry (Harry) was born into a linen family in Dungannon in 1927. His school days were spent at Elm Park prep and later Campbell College. He studied textile chemistry at Manchester and Leeds before returning to the family firm as an apprentice.

His skills were put to good use in modernising the Moygashel fabrics and outrunning the competition. Stevenson & Son, unusually, had a mixed workforce and medical care for employees.

At a meeting of the Unionist Party and the Orange Order before the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon in 1968, he advised non-intervention but was outvoted and the subsequent confrontation was among the pivotal events that led to the Troubles.

Harry entered politics with the O’Neill election in 1969. For his opposition to sectarianism he was expelled from the Unionist Party, and then from the Orange Order, at which point the local district inspector advised him to carry a pistol at all times, which he did for 15 years.

He was on the executive committee of the New Ulster Movement, founded that year, which drew up detailed proposals for power-sharing, argued the case for suspension of Stormont, opposed internment and promoted the use of single transferable vote despite Westminster doubts.

Following Bloody Sunday in 1972, the government invited him, Brian Walker, Brian McGuigan and Cecil Hull to London for three days of meetings and briefings. He remained convinced that if Willie Whitelaw had been given longer in Northern Ireland rather than being called back to Westminster to settle the miners’ strike and resulting three-day week, the Sunningdale Agreement would have been accepted.

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Following the collapse of the power-sharing executive in 1974, he joined the Ulster Defence Regiment to “try at least to help keep the peace.” He left in 1977 to run Tyrone Crystal but rejoined from 1981 to 1986, when he resigned in the grounds of age.

He left Ireland when the Army and police told him it was unsafe to remain. Harry was appointed the first intelligence officer of the 8th (Co Tyrone) Battalion.

He served on the Cockcroft Committee to review rural planning policy in Northern Ireland, and from 1977 to 1980 chaired the Tyrone Investment Corporation for Industrial Development (TICID). In 1977, Ronnie Henderson, the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Development Agency asked Harry to take over the troubled Tyrone and Antrim Crystal Companies, into which the government had poured considerable sums of money. He became its executive director that November. He also worked for the Local Enterprise and Development Unit, and was chairman of the Irish Association, which fostered cultural, social and economic links between the two parts of Ireland.

In 1986 Harry became director of Kettering Business Venture Trust, where he brought businessmen and politicians together. Within two years, unemployment was reduced from 13% to under 2%.

In 1986 he was awarded a military MBE for bravery. He was Deputy Lieutenant for County Tyrone and High Sheriff. His wife, Patricia (Paddy) died in 2016. Harry is survived by his children, Valerie and Robert.

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