Eddie McGrady was the man who finally confined Enoch Powell to a life outside Westminster at the 1987 General Election. But had come close to unseated the controversial former Conservative later Ulster Unionist MP in the previous two contests for the Westminster seat of South Down.The Downpatrick born man had been on 1,842 votes away from the unseating of a second unionist in the 1986 unionism all out by elections but he'd been only 548 behind at the previous General Election.
But Eddie had served almost 50 years as an elected representative by the time he retired at the last General Election. he was first elected as an independent nationalist serving on Downpatrick Urban Council, before it was displaced by Down District Council in 1973. In the late 60s he joined the National Democrats and in 1969 stood in East Down for the last Northern Ireland Parliament but lost out by a mere 1,709 votes to the future and last Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner who served in that role from 1971 until direct rule was restored in 1972.
In 1970 Eddie became a founding member of the SDLP and under all of the first three attempts to devolve power again in 1973, 1975 and 1982 Eddie was elected as a representative for them for South Down. It saw him becoming Head of the Department of Executive Planning and Co-ordination from Jan-May 1974 at the end of that first attempt. He first stood for Westminster in 1979 taking on Enoch Powell as he was first seek re-election for his Northern Irish seat.
He was a strong spokesperson for devolution asking questions about devolving policing and justice in some of his last actions in Westminster and he was elected to the first term of the new Northern Ireland Assembly post the Good Friday agreement. He stepped aside as he later would do in Westminster for Margaret Ritchie after his first term. He would also serve on the Northern Ireland policing board.
I didn't always agree with Eddie, most particularly on LGBT rights, for the majority of his time in Westminster in the latter years he absented himself when any vote was to be taken. But in 1994 on the votes to lower the age of consent for homosexual men he voted to retain it at 21 both against Edwina Currie's failed equalising Clause and Anthony Durrant's clause which lowered it to 18, but then every Northern Irish MP of the time voted in the same way. He didn't vote in the subsequent 2000 vote which equalised the age of consent.
The SDLP these days of course talk up that they have always been for all civil rights yet historically they failed the LGBT community in Northern Ireland just as the unionists still do today. Although people like Eddie may have been conservative on some social issues they did lay the ground work for equality to be debated and discussed in Northern Ireland. They were a voice for the oppressed minority of the time who had to find their feet under the table of democracy and he was respected on all sides.