Tributes for historic Sinn Féin politician

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Tributes have been paid to veteran republican Tom Mitchell who died in his native Dublin at the age of 88.

Mr Mitchell was twice elected to represent the Mid-Ulster constituency, the first time in 1955. At the time of his election, he was serving a 10-year sentence in Crumlin Road jail in Belfast.

He and a fellow prisoner, Phil Clarke, became the first Sinn Féin candidates elected in the north to parliament since 1918.

The 1955 elections were historic for Sinn Féin as it was the first time that the party had contested all constituencies in the Six Counties since the partition of Ireland.

However, the British government used the archaic Westminster ‘Forfeiture Act’ of 1870 to subvert the democratic vote of the people of Mid-Ulster. A resolution of the British House of Commons formally declared that Mr Mitchell was disbarred due to his conviction, vacated his seat, and ordered that a by-election be held.

He re-elected with a larger majority, but his twice-defeated Unionist opponent Charles Beattie lodged a petition with the Election Court.

Mr Mitchell was not allowed to attend the court, which overturned the result of the election and declared Beattie the winner in defiance of the people of Mid-Ulster.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill said: “The British government tried to strip him and the republican voters of Mid Ulster of his seat and forced a by-election, which he also won with an increased majority.

“He challenged this disenfranchisement of the people and continued to fight injustice for the rest of his life. He was on the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon and retained a close bond with Mid Ulster and its people.

“My thoughts are with his family, friends and all who knew him at this sad time.”

Republican Sinn Fein paid tribute to “a faithful Irish Republican” who had regularly attendded the party’s annual conference.

The 32 County Sovereignty Committee said the republican people of Tyrone “had truly taken him to their hearts, many will mourn his passing”.

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DEATH OF PADDY COYLE

Meanwhile, a man whose photograph as a 13-year-old holding a petrol bomb during the Battle of the Bogside became one of the most iconic images of the conflict has also died.

A picture, taken in 1969, of Paddy Coyle wearing an old Second World War gas mask by acclaimed photographer Clive Limpkin was used around the world. Limpkin, who himself died in May at the age of 82, said it was the best photograph he had ever taken.

He said: “If ever we photographers needed a symbol of the fighting, this was it. Wearing an over-sized gas mask; a petrol bomb permanently in his hand, so it seemed; and a map of the whole problem on his jacket. For hours he taunted the police and troops, ignoring the cameras.”

The image was adopted by Bogside Artists as their first mural, relating the history of the area. The mural, adjacent to Free Derry Corner, is one of the most frequently visited sites in the city.

Bogside artist Tom Kelly said: “Paddy never exploited his iconic image. He refused many offers from TV documentary makers and newspapers to tell his story behind the image as he didn’t like talking about it.”

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