Lives Remembered

Communist committed to struggle for civil rights

Sean Morrissey pictured with Johnny Nichol, Hughie Moore and John Hanna (L-R) in 1960

AT the age of 16 Sean Morrissey was sentenced to two months' imprisonment for wearing an Easter lily on his coat and refusing to take it out on a policeman's instructions.

His early political life had begun in the republican movement but it was his experience as a prisoner that saw him reject physical force republicanism. Instead he joined Communist Party, becoming a member of its Irish executive committee.

He would be recognised in Ireland and Britain for the contribution he made to the democratic struggle for civil rights, trade union action and for his commitment to communist principles.

Born in the Markets area of Belfast in 1923, Sean also lived on the Falls and in Turf Lodge, where he and his late wife Catherine raised their family.

He was interned during the Second World War, and taken to Derry jail until the notorious prison ship HMS Al Rawdah was ready in Strangford Lough.

He said the brutal treatment the untried men received in Derry was somewhat ameliorated on the ship, bad though it was. “The fact that the men were all together on board, instead of being in separate cells, made the warders more polite to them.”

In 1960 he addressed a meeting of the North London Connolly Association about the anti-democratic and repressive nature of Northern Ireland.

"I have no doubt," he said, "that the conditions of the internees today are no better than they were when I was interned myself from 1940 to 1945."

He had a long history of fighting for better housing and became chairman of the Turf Lodge Tenants Association, and was for several years chair of the Amalgamated Corporation of Tenants Associations responsible for 40,000 tenants.

Sean was still chairman of the NI Tenants Association when he was lifted by the British army on December 9 1971; his detention caused protests from within the trade union and labour movement.

He was soon out of Holywood Palace Barracks and back on the streets campaigning for civil rights and unity of the working class.

Earlier that year he had been part of a delegation that went to meet Brian Faulkner to discuss community relations and he also met Harold Wilson in Belfast to discuss the case of withdrawing troops from working class areas.

Sean's working life spanned the building industry, Inglis’s bakery and later as education officer of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union.

Because communists were banned from holding office in the union he could not be a shop steward at Inglis's, but all the unions in the bakery participated in a works committee and they elected Sean as convenor.

In 1974 he opposed the Ulster Workers Council stoppage. He knew that every group of workers who were consulted voted against it, including those in shipbuilding, aerospace, power stations and engineering.

He was one of the trade unionists who helped to lead the march back to work along with TUC general secretary Len Murray.

Sean attended the May Day march right up until at the age of 90 when he could no longer do so.

Though he was modest about his contributions towards making a better life for all, he was forthright and determined when he was pursuing a cause. His sense of humour and honesty was much appreciated.

He died aged 92 on January 3 and is survived by his daughters Mairead and Oonagh, son Michael and grandchildren.

Joe Bowers

Lives Remembered