Northern Ireland news

O'Neill pays tribute following the death of Sinn Féin veteran and former Mid Ulster MP Tom Mitchell

Tom Mitchell. Picture courtesy of Tommy McKearney

SINN Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill last night paid tribute to veteran republican Tom Mitchell who died in his native Dublin at the age of 88.

Mr Mitchell was twice elected as MP for the old Mid-Ulster constituency, the first time in 1955.

At the time of his election, he was serving a 10-year sentence in Crumlin Road jail in Belfast.

He had been convicted following an unsuccessful IRA raid on military barracks in Omagh, Co Tyrone in 1954.

He and a fellow-prisoner, Phil Clarke, became the first Sinn Féin MPs elected in the north to Westminster since 1918.

The 1955 elections were historic for Sinn Féin as it was the first time that the party had contested all constituencies in Northern Ireland since the formation of the state in 1921.

He was later disqualified from holding the seat because of legislation which said no prisoner serving a sentence of over 12 months could be elected as an MP.

In August 1955 however he was re-elected with a larger majority.

His Unionist opponent Charles Beattie however lodged a petition with the Election Court who then awarded the seat to him.

Mr Beattie was himself disqualified the following year, for holding 'offices of profit under the Crown'.

Mr Mitchell again contested the seat, but failed to be elected. He was also unsuccessful in subsequent elections in 1959, 1964 and 1966.

Ms O'Neill said: "Tom was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for Mid Ulster while a political prisoner in May 1955, making history as the first Sinn Féin MP elected in the north since 1918.

"The British government tried to strip him and the republican voters of Mid Ulster of his seat and forced a by-election, which he also won with an increased majority.

"He challenged this disenfranchisement of the people and continued to fight injustice for the rest of his life.

“He was on the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon and retained a close bond with Mid Ulster and its people.

"My thoughts are with his family, friends and all who knew him at this sad time."

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