Obituaries: Paddy Kennedy

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PADDY KENNEDY'S five fleeting minutes of fame came in August 1971, just as the Northern Ireland troubles were degenerating from fitful street clashes and occasional deaths into wholesale slaughter.

The introduction of internment without trial by Brian Faulkner, then prime minister of Northern Ireland, had sent nationalist districts of Belfast into uproar. Hundreds of arrests were made, the Unionist government claiming the army had the IRA on the run.

It was at this point that Paddy Kennedy called a press conference in west Belfast, which was saturated with several thousand troops. Asked whether he believed internment had smashed the IRA he unexpectedly introduced Joe Cahill, a senior Provisional who was then one of most wanted men in Belfast.

The fact that Cahill could sit with the world's media while the army roamed the streets outside seemed to give the lie to the Unionist claims of success for internment. Brian Faulkner later reflected that it had been "a propaganda coup, a clever piece of IRA manipulation of the media". Sean MacStiofain, then IRA chief-of-staff, exulted in his memoirs: "The whole affair was a brilliant piece of propaganda which well and truly twisted the lion's tail."

It was at once the high point and low point of Kennedy's career as a Republican Labour MP in the old Stormont parliament: the high point because he received huge publicity, the low point because it effectively ruled him out of constitutional nationalist politics.

He had been a highly active political figure who, while rarely at the centre of events, always seemed to be not far away from the action. As a councillor and Stormont MP for Central Belfast he was a familiar figure in the lower Falls area, one of the most violent spots. He also made up the numbers on many delegations, at one point travelling to London to see the Home Secretary, James Callaghan.

He was at the forefront of various civil rights marches and was physically in the front line at the October 1968 march in Londonderry. That too was a media disaster for Unionism, television pictures being flashed around the world of his one-time Republican Labour colleague, Gerry Fitt, bleeding from a head wound caused by a Royal Ulster Constabulary baton. It was Fitt who went on to become a civil rights icon, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party and finally to take the title of Lord Fitt. Kennedy veered in the opposite direction, leaning towards the Provisionals but finding that this path led to political oblivion.

The original civil rights umbrella movement split apart with most of its activists supporting either the SDLP or the IRA. Paddy Kennedy discovered, as did a number of others, that there was insufficient ground in between those two large blocs for many other representatives to survive politically. By the mid-1970s he had gone from Belfast to begin a new non-political career (training as a barrister, then working as a planning consultant) in Dublin, his only political legacy being that cameo role he played in west Belfast with Joe Cahill.

Patrick Kennedy, politician: born Belfast 3 September 1942; Republican Labour MP for Belfast Central, Northern Ireland 1969-72; twice married (two sons, three daughters); died Dublin 3 May 1999.