Tributes have been paid to former republican prisoner and Sinn Féin councillor Bobby Lavery who has died in San Francisco after a short illness.
A Carrick Hill native who left his native city to join the British Army, Bobby returned to Belfast in 1970 to join the IRA. He went on to serve a sentence in the Long Kesh prison camp for possession of weapons and on his release in the mid-seventies threw himself into political organising in the New Lodge area.
He was among the first Sinn Féin councillors to enter City Hall in over 60 years when elected, alongside Gerard McGuigan, for the Oldpark in 1985. He served a four-year term before standing unsuccessfully for the Castle Electoral Area in May 1989. However, in 1993, he was returned once more for the Oldpark and retained his seat on the first count in 1997. Bobby stepped down from politics at the 2001 election and began to spend his time between San Francisco and Belfast.
In the Council, he played a leading role in challenging discrimination against the nationalist electorate. In August 1993, after the first successful nationalist parade into Belfast city centre, his house was targeted by loyalist gunmen and his 21-year-old son Sean shot dead. The Ulster University student was hit several times as he ran from the living room amidst a fusillade of bullets and died in his father's arm. Less than a year later, the house was attacked again by loyalists, the occupants escaped unscathed.
The previous December, Bobby's 40-year-old brother Martin had been shot dead by loyalists as he was wrapping Christmas presents in his North Belfast home.
Bobby Lavery went on to represent the Oldpark area with distinction. Never one for pomp and circumstance, Bobby's favoured dress code in City Hall was sandals and flak jacket.
Alex Maskey, who led the Sinn Féin advance on to Belfast City Council in the eighties, praised Bobby Lavery's "endless energy and tremendous commitment to Irish republicanism".
"Bobby would never ask anyone to do something that he wasn't willing to do himself," said the Stormont Assembly Speaker. "He was a community worker before we even had that term. I remember him organising outings to the Groves' baths for local kids in between running the local advice centre and fighting for housing rights. He truly was a whirlwind of activity and positivity, an inspiration to all who knew with him and had the honour of serving alongside him."
I gcuimhne ar Bobby chóir. In memory of community activist & republican Cllr Bobby Lavery, some pics & snippets from the Dome. Worth reading to bottom of last page though text cut just before ref to NIO spending £65k installing security at home of rival politician a mile away. pic.twitter.com/6Bp1d6vHSf— Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (@newbelfast) December 28, 2022
In a tribute today, Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said Bobby Lavery was passionate about tackling poverty and fighting for equality.
“Bobby Lavery was a committed Irish Republican and trailblazer for Sinn Féin in the north of the city," he said.
His work for the republican community, added Gerry Kelly, included "driving the advice centre, tackling housing issues, campaigning for youth and community services, and tackling poverty.
In recent years, Bobby and Susanna had been the subject of a work of 'oral history research-creation' by Canadian-based artist Veronica Mockler.
Bobby Lavery was predeceased by his first wife Val. He is survived by his wife Susanna, children Treasa, Neil, Siobhan and Roibeárd and a wide family circle.
Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam uasal.