29 July 2004 Edition

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Death of Bobbie Heatley

Friends and former comrades of Bobbie Heatley have been paying tribute to the prominent Irish civil rights activist and socialist republican who died in Belfast on Monday afternoon, aged 69, following a short illness.

For the past seven years, Heatley had been the Six-County correspondent of the Connolly Association's newspaper, the Irish Democrat. He also wrote extensively on the Irish Peace Process for publications in Sweden, Australia and America.

Born in staunchly loyalist East Belfast of Protestant background, Bobbie recalled being taken as a young boy by an uncle to have his photograph taken wearing an Orange Order sash. However, he was to take a very different political path to unionism and loyalism.

Introduced to politics as a member of the Young Workers' League in Belfast, he was responsible for organising youth continents from Ireland to Warsaw and Moscow under the auspices of the World Federation of Democratic Youth.

Originally working as a carpenter, he emigrated to London in the early 1960s, where he joined the Hampstead Young Communist League, the Movement for Colonial Freedom and the Connolly Association.

On returning to Belfast some years later he became involved in the civil rights struggle, joined NICRA's Belfast executive and served as the organisation's public relations office — a position he held at the time of the 1972 Bloody Sunday civil rights march and massacre in 1972.

Having already provided oral testimony, surviving members of the executive of NICRA's had been meeting regularly over the last few years and had only recently completed their written submission to the Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday events.

Along with Belfast solicitor Kevin McCorry and others, he was also a founder member in the late 1980s of the Campaign for Democracy, a small but influential civil rights group based in Belfast.

Although he contributed many articles to the Irish Democrat over the years, it wasn't until 1996 that he agreed to become the paper's 'official' Six-County correspondent of the Irish Democrat after the then editor, myself, suggested that the paper would benefit from having regular contributions from a Belfast-based source possessing his acute political and analytical qualities.

Desmond Greaves Summer School committee member Tony Coughlan, who originally met him during his years in the Connolly Association, described the Belfastman as "a profound and insightful political thinker".

"He stood out as a fine example of the progressive republican tradition that was born among Ireland's radical Protestant population. His death is an enormous loss for his friends and comrades who will sorely miss his warm friendship, his sharp political analysis and his equally acerbic wit", said Connolly Association General Secretary Jim Redmond.


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