25 October 2007 Edition

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Fógraí bháis

A GREAT SOCIALIST, republican and, above all, man of and for the people died last week, on Monday, 15 October, with the passing of Matt Larkin Snr from Dublin’s Liberties, chair of the National Association of Tenants’ Organisations.
Thousands of people, whose lives he had touched, from the Liberties and beyond, walked behind his wife, Leena, and family to pay their respects at his funeral in St Catherine’s Church, Meath Street.
His son, also called Matt, gave an oration in which he quoted  Archbishop Bishop Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980: “When I give bread to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why, they call me a communist.”
Matt Larkin Jnr continued:
“My father too was never afraid to ask why.  His whole life was dedicated to helping others.”
Matt Larkin Snr was chair of the National Association of Tenants’ Organisation (NATO), which fought and won the struggle for differential rents in public housing, that rents should not be more than 10 per cent of your income. It changed the lives of so many people back in the 1960s and 1970s and for all those who came after.
Thousands went on rent strike. Between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of tenants joined the strike. To withhold your rent was an offence under the Offences Against the State Act. The Larkins were continuously raided and persecuted by the Garda at the time. The Government did all it could to defeat the strike but it brought Haughey’s administration down and the following government negotiated a deal, conceding NATO’s demands.
Matt Larkin, through NATO, initiated and led the campaigns not only for differential rents but also for medical cards, for allowances for lone parents, for free travel, for free water.  Many of the battles for better social conditions were initiated and pursued by Matt Larkin in those days of great hardship.
But Matt never took anything for himself.  He worked for Guinness for many years and, in the 1950s, he survived the horror of TB which took so many of that generation. He was two years in a sanatorium in Athlone. Of 13 in the ward, only he and one other survived.
His son, Matt Jnr, recalls:
“My father was also first and foremost a family man. Our flat was always full of kids who came here: for homework, for help, or with questions to my father. If a child had something wrong with them, the parents came to Matt’s door – even though Matt was not a doctor!
“He was a man of the people and a fighter who stood up for and fought for the rights of the poorer people. People loved and trusted him. They knew he would always do his best for them.”
Matt Snr’s testament to his family was: “Never look down on anyone or look up to anyone – there is no one so grand or important that we cannot take them on.”

An Phoblacht
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