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Patrick Joseph (Paddy) Devlin (1925 - 1999):
Trade Unionist and Politician

Paddy Devlin

Patrick Joseph (Paddy) Devlin was born in the Pound Loney in West Belfast on 8 March 1925. He grew up in a highly political household; his mother being a prominent member of the Nationalist Party in the Falls area. As a youth he joined the Fianna Eireann, not, as he later said, ‘from patriotic zeal but to increase his status' and later the IRA. He was interned in 1942 for three years and on his release he left the Republican movement. He worked in Portsmouth and Coventry where he became interested in trade union politics and briefly joined the Labour Party.

In 1948 he returned to Belfast and helped to form the Irish Labour Party there, after a split in the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) on the issue of partition. He served briefly on the Belfast City Council. In the 1960s he joined the revived NILP and defeated Harry Diamond (Nationalist Party) for the Falls seat at Stormont.

In 1970, Devlin, with Gerry Fitt, John Hume, Austin Curry, Paddy O'Hanlon and others, founded the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). He was a founder member of the Civil Rights Association.

After the Sunningdale Agreement, Devlin became a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 and served as Minister of Health and Social Services in the power-sharing Executive from 1 January 1974 to 28 May 1974 before the Assembly was brought crashing down by the Ulster Worker's strike. He was a socialist first and foremost and deeply distrusted others in the SDLP who he regarded as nationalists and not social democrats. He saw the SDLP as a body to unite Catholic and Protestant workers and so transcend the sectarian divisions of the north of Ireland through socialist politics. Others saw him as overly aggressive and forceful. In his autobiography Straight Left he accused John Hume of seeking to make the SDLP just another nationalist party and following a public attack on the party's direction he was expelled in 1977.

Subsequently he established the United Labour Party, which aimed to be a broad based Labour formation in Northern Ireland. He stood under its label for the European Parliament in 1979 but lost his deposit. In an interview in 1995 he said "No one's talking to (Protestants) about the price of a loaf of bread or how much it takes to pay the rent," "No one has had any regard for the majority of people here, the Protestants. ... We've scarcely recognised them."

In 1987 he, together with remnants of the NILP and others, established Labour ‘87 as another attempt at building a Labour Party in the North by uniting the disparate groups supporting labour and socialist policies but it too met with little or no success.

Devlin spent his later years as Belfast organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and wrote an acclaimed study of the 1935 Outdoor Relief riots in Belfast, published as Yes We Have No Bananas in 1985.

Devlin died on 15 August 1999. An Archive of his papers ws donated to the Linen Hall Library by his widow Theresa.

Born: 8 March 1925
Died: 15 August 1999
Patrick Devlin

Paddy Devlin (1981), "Yes, We Have No Bananas: Outdoor Relief in Belfast, 1920-39".

Paddy Devlin (1993), "Straight Left - An Autobiography"