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Gerry Fitt
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Gerry Fitt

Gerrard "Gerry" Fitt, Baron Fitt (born 9 April 1926), is a former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and a socialist and republican politician.

Gerry Fitt was born in Belfast and educated at the Christian Brothers School. Between 1941 and 1953 he served in the merchant navy. In 1958 he was elected to Belfast City Council as a member of the Irish Labour Party. In 1962 he won a Stormont seat from the Unionist Party. In 1966 he won the West Belfast seat in the Westminster parliament. He represented the people as Republican Labour Party candidate.

He used Westminster as a platform to interest British MPss in the problems and issues surrounding Northern Ireland. Many sympathetic MPs were present at the civil rights march in Derry on the day that Fitt was wounded by police. In August 1970 he became the first leader of a coalition of civil rights and nationalist leaders who created the Social Democratic and Labour Party. In 1974 he became deputy chief executive of the short-lived Power-Sharing Executive. He became a target for republican sympathisers in 1976 when they attacked his home. He became disillusioned with the handling of Northern Ireland by the British government. In 1979 he abstained from a crucial vote in the House of Commons which brought down the Labour government. Later that year he was replaced by John Hume as leader of the SDLP and he left the party altogether.

In 1981 he opposed the hunger strikes in the Maze prison in Belfast. His seat in Westminster was targeted by Sinn Féin as well as by the SDLP. In June 1983 he lost his seat in West Belfast to Gerry Adams, in part due to competition from an SDLP candidate. The following month he was made a UK life peer as Baron Fitt, of Bell's Hill in the County of Down.

Although Fitt was initially considered a Nationalist politician, his career defies the traditional terms used for the discussion of Northern Irish politics. It would perhaps be most fair to say that he was first and foremost a socialist politician rather than a Nationalist.