Belfast Telegraph

Why tireless campaigner Saidie would be dismayed to see the mess we're in

By Alf McCreary

A blue plaque in honour of the trade unionist and peace-maker Saidie Patterson was unveiled on Thursday,

The Ulster History Circle plaque, unveiled by Baroness May Blood, is appropriately located at Shankill Road Methodist Church, because Saidie was a staunch Methodist.

Her work for peace, as well as trade unions and women's rights, was such that she was awarded the World Methodist Peace Award in 1978.

Saidie was a larger than life character and an enormous force for good.

Sadly, her contribution is largely unknown by younger generations, who owe her much for making Northern Ireland a more civilised place for women and those who tried to make peace.

The story of her life reads like a novel, with deep tragedy as well as hope.

She was born in 1906 and brought up in Woodvale, where she lived all her life.

Her mother died in childbirth because she had been unable to afford the doctor's fee - a mere 3/6d.

Saidie worked in Ewart's Mill on the Crumlin Road from the age of 14, and over the years she became a dedicated union leader, fighting for the rights of women who were badly treated by the textile employers.

She was instrumental in calling and sustaining a seven-week strike in 1940, which brought some benefits to the workers, including slightly better wages, sickness benefit and holiday pay. Later, she held a full-time post in the TGWU, with special responsibility for women workers.

Outside the trade union movement, she was a member of the Girls' Club Union for more than 50 years, during which time she brought young girls from the Shankill and Falls together. When the Troubles broke out in 1969, with devastating effect in north Belfast and elsewhere, Saidie was in the vanguard of peace-making. She was a founder member of Women Together, which preceded the Peace People.

Saidie was a good friend of mine, and many a time when I was feeling low and discouraged as a columnist trying to build bridges through this newspaper, I would receive a letter in her broad blue handwriting which stated: "That was a good column you wrote this week, and it took courage. Just you keep on keepin' on".

Saidie never knew how much her support meant to me in those days of darkness.

I admired her great courage and vision, and the unveiling of a plaque in her memory this week reminded me of all she had done.

The motive and thrust of her life's work was totally grounded in her strong Christian faith, and she has an honoured place in a long line of distinguished co-Methodists including David Bleakley, the Rev Dr Eric Gallagher, Senator Gordon and Mrs Joan Wilson, and the Rev Harold Good, who happily is still with us.

Saidie fought so hard for better community relations, and people like me felt that the Good Friday Agreement was a just reward for those of the older generations who had worked so hard, and with such self-sacrifice, for peace.

Tragically, however, what a shambles we have today.

Instead of a progressive and more integrated society, we are more apart than ever. People may say "Oh, things are more peaceful and there are less killings and injuries". However, that is not the point. Despite the many thousands of deaths and injuries, as well as widespread destruction, our political representatives are further apart than at any time since the worst of the Troubles.

Only today I heard one leading politician claim there would be no Stormont agreement until 2019.

How utterly hopeless and depressing, and how disgracefully we are marooned in this dank political swamp.

The politicians and the broadcasters fail to understand how much we despise these nightly confrontations over the endless orange vs green issues.

We are a sad and tragic laughing stock, and we are showing the world that we are totally unable to govern ourselves.

I salute Saidie Patterson, who deserved better from those who followed her, and I am glad that she is not around to witness the unspeakable mess that has emerged from such high hopes of only 20 years ago. It is just awful to bear.

Belfast Telegraph

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