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Gerry Fitt, 79; Catholic Nationalist Leader Was Fierce Critic of the IRA

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Gerry Fitt, 79, a Catholic nationalist leader in Northern Ireland and a fierce critic of the Irish Republican Army, died Friday in England.

His family declined to state the place or cause of death, but he had suffered from heart disease.

Fitt was a leader of a Catholic civil rights march that confronted police near Londonderry on Oct. 5, 1968. Violence broke out, gaining worldwide television coverage and effectively marking the start of three decades of strife in Northern Ireland.

In 1976, armed with a pistol, Fitt faced down a mob of IRA supporters invading his home. The house was later burned, and he moved to London.

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A former merchant seaman, Fitt represented West Belfast in the House of Commons for 17 years.

He was deputy chief executive of a power-sharing government that collapsed within five months in 1974 because of Protestant opposition.

In 1983, Fitt lost his Commons seat to Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-allied Sinn Fein party. He later was appointed to the House of Lords as Baron Fitt of Bell’s Hill in the County of Down.


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