Lives Remembered

Liam Johnson: Accountant was 'quiet, hard-working and deeply committed republican'

Liam Johnson with his granddaughter Naoise

LIAM Johnson was a republican activist for most of his adult life.

Born in Greencastle, north Belfast in 1941, he went to St Malachy’s College on the Antrim Road.

When he left school he went to work in an accountant’s firm in May Street before branching out on his own when he was about 25.

The 1960s were turbulent years with an increasing focus on the discriminatory nature of the northern state.

1966 also witnessed the popular upsurge in republicanism arising from the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

Liam had a great grá for the United Irish Society. He read any books written about the period and later, when he worked for Sinn Féin in the assembly, he brought with him paintings of United Irish leaders he admired to put on his wall.

Liam joined the republican movement around 1967. He was politically very active, harassed by the RUC and arrested on several occasions.

1969 was a watershed year for the north. The civil rights movement was increasingly demonstrating for fundamental reform and an end to electoral gerrymandering and discrimination in housing and employment. Ian Paisley was holding counter demonstrations.

Following UVF bombs in April – which were initially blamed on the IRA - against electricity sub-stations and water pipe lines, British soldiers were deployed.

As the situation deteriorated the Unionist government sought to increase the numbers in the RUC by transferring members of the B Specials.

August witnessed the Battle of the Bogside and the loyalist pogroms in north and west Belfast in which hundreds of homes in mainly Catholic areas were destroyed and thousands of civilians became refugees.

The response of the Ulster Unionist Party government was to introduce internment and 24 men, including Liam, were lifted in raids.

They were held in Crumlin Road prison. Liam and most of the 24 were released within several weeks but a small number were held until the end of the year.

As the conflict intensified, and with the re-introduction of internment in August 1971, the number of political prisoners increased dramatically.

Liam helped to establish the Green Cross organisation in 1973 which was a financial life-line for thousands of families over the following decades.

He continued to provide essential financial advice in support of the political prisoners.

He also became an essential part of the Sinn Féin finance department and was central to the party’s fundraising efforts during elections.

In 1998 he established the Sinn Féin finance department at Stormont while continuing to his work for Green Cross.

Two years ago when the Green Cross was relaunched, Liam was again centrally involved and he worked closely with Bobby Storey in the planning and refurbishment of An Fhuiseog – the republican bookshop on the Falls Road.

In 1968 Liam married Mary Rooney from Kilkeel and in the early 1970s their young family moved to Downpatrick, where he was an active member of the Thomas Russell cumann.

The family moved to Dundalk in 1993, although Liam maintained his connections with south Down.

He helped establish the Down Patriot Graves group which has responsibility for renovating some of the republican memorials. Recently it completed the renovation of the memorial to Colm Marks.

Even when he retired from accounting, Liam continued to be actively involved in republican politics.

In 2011 when I stood in Louth for election to Leinster House, Liam and his daughter Fiona were an integral part of our constituency finance team.

He also took time to study for an honours degree in theology and philosophy, which he received from the University of Wales in 2010, and he published a book, Viator: Musings in Theology and Philosophy.

I knew Liam for over 50 years. He was a quiet, hardworking and deeply committed republican.

He died aged 79 on May 5 and will be sorely missed by all of us who knew and respected him.

I want to extend my condolences and solidarity to Mary and their children Fiona, Liam, Declan, Deirdre, Nuala and Damien and to his nine grandchildren, especially Nuala’s daughter Naoise.

Naoise was a regular at Sinn Féin protests, pickets, marches and election events. When I would invite her up onto the platform Naoise used to tell Liam that he couldn’t accompany her because it was only for the leadership.

Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilís.

Gerry Adams

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Lives Remembered