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Saturday 12th
posted by Morning Star in Features

KEVIN McNAMARA (September 5 1934 – August 6 2017) was a human rights defender who will be missed, writes Paul Donovan

FORMER Labour MP for Hull Central Kevin McNamara has sadly passed away at the age of 82.

In his early life, McNamara studied for a law degree at the University of Hull, prior to going on to teach history at St Mary’s grammar school in the city. He met his wife Nora while studying law and the two married in 1960.

Following his school years, he taught law at Hull College from 1964 to 1966.

McNamara unsuccessfully contested the Bridlington constituency in 1964, prior to winning Hull North in 1966. He then served as an MP until his retirement in 2005.

The Hull MP served as shadow Northern Ireland minister between 1987 and 1994 under Labour leader Neil Kinnock. Then when Tony Blair became leader, McNamara was replaced with Mo Mowlam.

Kevin was a stalwart supporter of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, doing all he could to advance that agenda in Westminster and beyond.

Widely touted as an Irish republican in the British media, McNamara strongly believed that had successive British governments taken a different approach to Northern Ireland from 1969 and sought to accommodate the demands of the civil rights protesters, then the conflict that brought the physical force tradition of the republican movement to the fore could have been avoided.

He supported peace in Ireland and beyond throughout his life. Despite losing the shadow portfolio on Northern Ireland, he remained a key operator in the background, helping Mowlam and Blair bring about the Good Friday Agreement.

A keen student of all things Irish, McNamara took a particular interest in the MacBride Principles — a code of conduct for US companies doing business in Northern Ireland, for which he attained a PhD from the University of Liverpool in 2007.

His commitment to Ireland, though, did not stop him championing the cause of the families of soldiers killed at Deepcut and other British army barracks in the ’00s.

The breadth of McNamara’s interests were nicely demonstrated at a Christmas celebration of the Agreed Ireland Forum (another group of which he was an integral part), which included leading members of Sinn Fein, the Labour Party and the parents of those bereaved as a result of their children dying in army barracks serving in the British army.

In the latter part of his parliamentary career, McNamara championed the cause of Gypsies and Travellers, pushing for local councils to be forced to make provision for the travelling community. He was chair of the all party parliamentary group on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.

One of his last public pronouncements came in the run-up to the 2005 general election, when in response to then Tory leader Michael Howard’s targeting of the travelling community, he described the leader of the opposition’s comments as having “a whiff of the gas chamber” about them.

My own personal recollection of McNamara was from his retirement party in 2005 when, after a formal celebration in the Commons, a few of us went round the corner to his favourite Chinese restaurant and a warm celebration ensued well into the night.

McNamara was on holiday in Spain when taken ill. He was quickly diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, being transferred back to England. He died among family and friends at home in Formby, Liverpool.

He is survived by his wife Nora, three sons and a daughter.