Gerry Fitt, one of the founders of the nationalist SDLP party, passed away on Friday.
He will be remembered mainly for his role in the early days of the North’s civil rights movement. In 1966 he was elected West Belfast MP for the Republican Labour Party, with the help of 2,000 Protestant votes.
His demise as an elected representative -- he lost his Westminster seat to Sinn FŽin’s Gerry Adams in 1983 -- following his opposition to the IRA and its 1981 hunger strike campaign.
“I felt in my bones it was wrong,” he said of the hunger strike. “They were murderers and ought to be treated like other murderers.”
In his later years, Mr Fitt expressed increasingly pro-unionist views, and ultimately took a seat in the British House of Lords.
Current SDLP leader Mark Durkan paid tribute to Mr Fitt last night and said: “As MP for West Belfast, he broke down the wall of indifference that British ministers and Westminster had previously shown towards Northern Ireland.
“He was instrumental in founding the SDLP on the principles of non-violence, partnership and equality and in bringing about the Sunningdale Agreement, with its core features of power-sharing, a strong all-Ireland dimension and human rights.
“He should be remembered, above all, as someone who cared very deeply about the people.”
Mr Fitt’s SDLP co-founder John Hume said: “Gerry was a great human being, he was a very humorous man, but also a very committed man.”
Sinn FŽin leader Gerry Adams extended his sympathy to the Fitt family. He said: “The differences between Gerry Fitt and republicans were many and profound but this is not a time to revisit these.
“I wish to express my sympathy to the extended Fitt family following the news of his death.”