Northern Ireland news

Taoiseach leads tributes to Irish News Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick as 'true gentleman'

Jim Fitzpatrick with his late wife Alice

TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has led tributes to the Chairman of The Irish News, Mr Jim Fitzpatrick, who died on Saturday morning after a short illness.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who was 92, played an active role in the newspaper for more than half a century.

As proprietor since the early 1980s, under his leadership The Irish News has established itself as the north's biggest-selling daily title.

The father-of-eight also made important contributions behind the scenes during the peace process and was closely involved with a range of business, civic and charitable organisations.

Mr Martin expressed his deep sadness and sympathy at Mr Fitzpatrick's death.

“I had the great privilege of knowing and interacting with Jim over many years. He was, in every respect, a true gentleman," he said.

“In his decades-long stewardship of The Irish News, he was a profoundly important advocate for an end to violence in the north. His role in the earliest days of the embryonic peace process is not widely known, but it was crucial.

“In his support for and leadership of the Chamber of Commerce in Belfast, he brought together people from all backgrounds in common constructive cause and was an example of true civic leadership.

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“In his quiet and ceaseless philanthropy over a lifetime, his generosity has left its stamp all across Belfast and further afield.

“Jim had a deep and true faith, which he carried with kindness and humility, and which sustained him following the sad death of his beloved wife Alice in 2013.

“Jim’s eight children and wider family circle will feel his loss acutely, but I hope that they can also take comfort and some pride in the knowledge that their father made a genuinely positive contribution to Belfast and to Ireland over the course of his life.

“To Anne, Brid, Bernard, Eileen, Dominic, Clare, Jim Jnr and Andrew, to the wider family circle, to his colleagues in The Irish News, and to his many friends I offer my heartfelt condolences. Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis."

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis also said: "Saddened to learn of the passing of Jim Fitzpatrick, a thoughtful and generous man who contributed greatly to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland."

"My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues."

Dominic Fitzpatrick, Managing Director of The Irish News, paid tribute on behalf of the family.

"As a family we were blessed with incredible parents," he said.

"Dad was an inspiration to so many people. His desire to be involved in The Irish News was driven by a belief that society needed a newspaper that could stand for truth and justice, particularly at such a turbulent time in history.

"Under his direction the paper has been transformed into the success it is today."

He said his father also spent much of his life "helping in the search for peace in Ireland, working quietly but effectively in the background".

"He was involved in community work, continually trying to bring people together and improve society.

"Dad really cared about people. He loved his work and was still coming to the office until a few weeks ago.

"He had a morning prayer which he said every day and it pretty much summed up his attitude to life. He saw every day in life as an opportunity to be seized, a gift from God not to be wasted. A day where he would be thoughtful, generous and helpful to others and lived without regret."

Irish News editor Noel Doran said Mr Fitzpatrick was a "giant of the newspaper industry as well as a key figure in the search for peace and reconciliation in Ireland who also had significant roles in law, business and the arts".

"Although he maintained a low profile, he was a noted philanthropist who probably had the strongest personal faith of anyone I have ever met," he said.

"He was completely dedicated to his family and to his staff at all levels in The Irish News, and serving as his editor for the last 24 years has been the greatest privilege of my career."

Former Irish News editor Martin O'Brien said he was "deeply saddened" by Mr Fitzpatrick's death.

"Mr Fitzpatrick was a patriot who has left his mark for good on this community in so many ways and his loss leaves a great void," he said.

"He was a good and decent man and a person of great personal kindness and charity.

"One of our unsung heroes who strove tirelessly for peace behind the scenes and quietly built bridges and fostered reconciliation without ever seeking the limelight.

"Jim's mission was anchored in his deep Christian faith and his great legacy is the vibrant Irish News newspaper of today."

Tributes were also paid by political figures.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said Mr Fitzpatrick "made a huge contribution to Irish life and progress in our society as the owner of The Irish News, but was also a quiet diplomat who worked to advance and influence peace and reconciliation across the political divide".

“I knew Jim personally over many years and we spoke by phone recently where despite his illness his mind remained sharp.

“I will remember Jim fondly as a man of great wisdom and integrity who leaves us with a rich and generous legacy.

“I offer sincere condolences on behalf of Sinn Féin to his family, colleagues and friends.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MP said Mr Fitzpatrick was "one of the giants of news in Ireland".

"During the most difficult periods of our recent past, Jim was fearlessly devoted to telling the stories of ordinary people who had suffered the most extraordinary loss and he did it without favour, even when it meant putting himself at odds with the men of violence. He was a man committed to the truth, to fairness and to peace on our island.

“His strong stewardship of The Irish News and his absolute belief in the primacy of democracy and the principles of non-violence contributed in an inestimable way to the peace we enjoy today. He was one of the people who helped sustain the embers of a fledgling peace process and his contribution cannot be underestimated.

“Jim’s passing feels like the end of an era for many of us but it will be felt most acutely by his colleagues to whom he was unimpeachably loyal and of course his family, who he lived every day for and of whom he was unfailingly proud... I hope they are comforted by the knowledge that their dad lived an extraordinary life and that his dedication to peace saved many others.

The John and Pat Hume Foundation said: "Jim Fitzpatrick was not only a great friend of John Hume, he played a vital role in promoting peace & reconciliation. He was a brilliant & distinguished businessman and a real gentleman who made Belfast and the north a better place."

Former Sunday World editor Jim McDowell said Mr Fitzpatrick "didn't hold back when supporting those seeking justice".

"For instance, Jim's support for this newspaper in our fight to bring our murdered reporter Martin O'Hagan's killers to justice was subtle, but substantive. And much appreciated," he said.

Clonard Monastery in west Belfast also said he was "passionate in his work for reconciliation in Northern Ireland".

"He supported Clonard’s peace and reconciliation ministry in many ways. May he rest in peace."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Ferry said: "Jim Fitzpatrick was a giant in the NI media and the wider community over many decades. I always enjoyed talking with him.

"Our deepest sympathies to the Fitzpatrick family and the Irish News team."

Mr Fitzpatrick's work also drew tributes from Protestant church leaders.

Former Presbyterian moderator Dr Norman Hamilton, who often writes for The Irish News, said: "Jim Fitzpatrick's death is a source of real sadness, not least because he went out of his way from time to time to be in touch and encourage me in whatever contribution I might be able to make to these pages.

"He was a true gentleman who saw such encouragement to me (and to others) as a normal part of his life and work. He really will be sorely missed, given that such open-heartedness and generosity of spirit are in serious decline in this divided society."

Rev Roy Cooper from the Methodist Church said Mr Fitzpatrick "made every effort to bridge the gap between the two communities with the result that many people from a Protestant background bought The Irish News".

Former DUP leader Arlene Foster also said she was very sorry to hear about Mr Fitzpatrick's passing.

"I always enjoyed chatting with him as he was genuinely interested in engaging at a human level whatever about politics. A man who knew the true meaning of civil and civic discourse. He will be sadly missed."

Predeceased by his wife Alice, Mr Fitzpatrick is survived by his children Anne, Bríd, Bernard, Eileen, Dominic, Clare, Jim and Andrew.

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