A passionate campaigner for democracy in Ireland

by Democrat reporter

JULY 14th 2004 marked the first anniversary of the death of Michael Melly, whose ashes have recently been returned to his native county Sligo and scattered on Ben Bulben, a landmark to which he very much related.

Mike was always conscientious of the historical injustices inflicted on Ireland over the centuries by military occupation and unjust laws, culminating in partition, which in 1921 cut off the six north-eastern counties, which still remain under British rule.

Early into the first Wilson government, Mike and three other friends (Bill O’Shaughnessy who died in 1985, Paddy Byrne and Oliver (Hammy) Donohue), all members of the Labour Party, met with a young, newly elected Member of Parliament from Blakey in Manchester, Paul Rose.

Rose showed disgust in his writings and speeches at the undemocratic and apartheid-type government that operated in Northern Ireland, which was independent of Westminster in domestic affairs and yet automatically returned Conservative and Unionist members of parliament who came to London and voted with the Tories against a marginal Labour government on internal issues.

The group decided to set up a campaign, which they called The Campaign for Democracy in Ulster. The campaign's basic aims were:

  1. 1. To call for a public enquiry into the administration of government in Northern Ireland.
  2. 2. To outlaw discrimination in the fields of housing and employment.
  3. 3. That the Race Relations Act include a religious discrimination remit and be extended to Northern Ireland.

    The campaign was inaugurated on Derby Day in 1965 in the grand committee room of the House of Commons and attracted 110 parliamentary sponsors, the largest lobby group, until then, in the history of the House of Commons.

    The sponsors included Lord Chuter Ede, who was Home Secretary at the time of the Ireland Act in 1948 and who felt that the Act did not work. He wholeheartedly subscribed to the aims of the campaign.

    The campaign proved to be a great success insofar that it succeeded in bringing the issue of Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of British and international politics. Indeed, the campaign had branches throughout the country.

    The campaign sent parliamentary factfinding committees to Northern Ireland and also brought over to London a variety of deputations, all of which received huge publicity.

    It must be remembered also that part of the campaign’s success was that it worked in harmony with the Campaign for Social Justice in Northern Ireland and, of course, with the Connolly Association, which had been in existence for a number of years.

    The campaign made a big contribution towards informing the world of the true situation in Northern Ireland under British rule. Within two years of the campaign starting, the Civil Rights movement began. Then came the suppression of Stormont, the imposition of direct rule from Westminster and, finally, the armed conflict.

    Mike Melly’s contribution to the success of the Campaign for Democracy was immense. It would be wrong to say that he felt passionate; he was more of a pragmatist and could always see issues from a different point of view and advise accordingly. He had a wonderful intellect and his sense of politics was at that time invaluable.

    Quite often, members of parliament and journalists interested in Ireland came to him for advice and clarification, as Mike was a fountain of knowledge and also had a wonderful sense of humour and would dispense advice on tactics and historical facts with a great deal of wisdom and common sense.

    He is mourned by his wife Helen, his son Peter, daughter-in-law Petra and his three grand-children.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-08-23 15:19:28.
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