Paddy Kennedy


Paddy had known for many months that he was dying, though he had hoped against hope that he could beat the cancer. About six weeks ago he said the fear of death and the unknown was awful but the sense of parting was worst of all - parting particularly from his wife, Geraldine, from their children Siobhan, John, Deirdre, Ruairi and Graine, and grandchild Niamh. His courage over the last several months was remarkable. Although in terrible pain for most of the time and although he was being degenerated daily by the cancer and afflicted with the most awful side-effects, he did not complain. Over this time the unremitting care of Geraldine was also remarkable. Paddy hated being in hospital and being at home he needed her there all the time.

Paddy Kennedy, born in Belfast in 1942, was educated for a while with the Redemptorists at Limerick and then at Queen's University. He entered politics as a councillor on Belfast City Council in 1967, as a member of the Republican Labour Party, then led by Gerry Fitt. He had come from a wealthy, middle-class background in east Belfast and his involvement in republican and labour politics was born out of commitment, without any self-interest. He was involved from the beginning in the Civil Rights Movement. He was at the famous Civil Rights march in Derry on October 5th, 1968 and at all the protests and demonstrations thereafter. He took a leading part in the campaign against internment.

It would be facile to assume that the reason he did not join Gerry Fitt in the newly formed SDLP in 1970 was because he was more republican than the nationalists of the SDLP. There were probably more personality factors involved in that than politics. Isolated on the nationalist benches after the SDLP was formed, he moved towards the republican movement but did so warily. He was involved in the 1970 arms affair, being one of the three anonymous people who controlled the bank account through which the famous £100,000 was channelled. Throughout that involvement he acted with utter propriety.

It is not now much remembered how terrified the Catholic community, especially in Belfast, was following the violence of August 1969. There was a widespread perception that a pogrom had been attempted on the Catholic community by elements of Loyalism, aided and abetted by the RUC and the B Specials. It was also felt that Catholics had been left defenceless.

In the face of that perception, responsible nationalist leaders, including Paddy Kennedy, appealed to the Irish Government for the means of self-defence. That was the origin of the attempted importation of arms and Paddy's part in that was honourable.

He had another very public involvement which has given rise to misunderstanding. That was his part in a press conference in west Belfast in the days following internment in August 1991, at which Joe Cahill appeared. Joe Cahill was then o/c of the IRA in Belfast and was introduced as such at the press conference. It must be remembered how beleaguered the entire nationalist community of northern Ireland felt at the time, when hundreds of nationalist men were lifted and interned without trial, and very many of them tortured. The sharp division between constitutional nationalism and armed republicanism was very blurred then; the constitutional road appeared blocked, indeed was blocked.

In recent years Paddy was unambiguously in favour of the peace process. Indeed the very tactic that underlay the present peace process - the involvement of the republican movement in dialogue - was the strategy he himself advocated 25 years ago.

Paddy failed to be elected to the new Stormont assembly in 1973 simply because he was outside both of the two rival nationalist camps - the SDLP on one side and the republican movement on the other. Republicans actively campaigned against him in that election, arguing that the political road was the road to a sell-out. He had no chance and he came south.

Paddy's specialist subject was Gerry Fitt. He could carry off his voice, accent and mannerisms to a tee. He could divine every thought of Gerry Fitt, including every piece of roguery and mischief. Gerry Fitt phoned Paddy a week or so ago and afterwards Paddy said that Gerry had told him he was off to have dinner with a few law lords. He speculated about how Gerry would off-load some Belfast street wisdom on their lordships.

Paddy had tremendous intellectual ability and could have been a huge success at the Bar. He qualified as a barrister late in life but diverted into the property business before building up a practice.

In other circumstances, perhaps he could have achieved more in politics or law or business. He could not have done more in the love and care he gave his wife and family.