Tributes have been paid to the former long-serving Labour MP and front-bencher Kevin McNamara who died at his home in Formby in Merseyside on Sunday aged 82.
Kevin was one of the strongest champions of Ireland and the Irish community in Britain that the House of Commons and Westminster has ever seen but never let this conflict with his obligations to his constituents or to the Labour Party cause.
To his dying breath he championed the principle of consent as central to any future Irish unification and unequivocally condemned the use of murder or any violence in the pursuit of that unification.
He fell ill on holiday in Carboneras in Spain and was diagnosed with incurable, inoperable pancreatic cancer.
His family said he was air lifted from Spain by air ambulance on 28 July and spent two nights in Southport and Formby District General Hospital before returning to his home.
They added: “He died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family, following a short and unexpected illness.
“Kevin’s family wishes to thank all those in Carboneras and Almeria, including medical staff, cleaners and caterers, and the local Catholic clergy, for their professionalism, care and consideration.
“The family would also like to recognise the smooth administrative process in Spain, delivered through the EHIC system.
“Thanks are also due to the Free Spirit insurance company for facilitating Kevin’s desired return from Spain, and to all the NHS medical and other staff, including district nurses and the palliative care team, in Southport and Formby.”
Although Liverpool, and a Lancastrian, to his core Kevin represented Hull North in Yorkshire. The Yorkshire voters there thought he was doing something right as he was re-elected at every election after he first became an MP in 1966 until he retired in 2005.
He then went on to earn a PhD from Liverpool University on the McBride Principles – a requirement for US firms and investors investing in Northern Ireland that employers did not practice sectarian discrimination against, usually Catholic, employees.
Kevin was born in Liverpool in 1934, and was educated at St Mary’s College, Crosby, and University College Hull where he earned a law degree and met the woman who would be his wife and life partner, Nora. Both were teachers. They married in 1960.
He became head of history at St Mary’s Grammar School, Hull, and went on to be a law lecturer at Hull College for two years.
His first, unsuccessful, attempt to become an MP was in 1964 in Bridlington but two years later he was successful in Hull North, switching following boundary changes in 1974 to what was by then Hull Central, and which by 1983 was Hull North again.
Throughout the 1960s he used his voice for the cause of civil rights in Northern Ireland.
He was perhaps best known to people in Ireland as the long-serving Labour Party spokesman on Northern Ireland, a Shadow Cabinet portfolio he held under Neil Kinnock and John Smith before making way for Mo Mowlam under Tony Blair.
Even after he gave up the Northern Ireland portfolio he was hugely helpful and influential behind the scenes in helping to secure the Good Friday Agreement at a time that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – now the Labour Leader and Shadow Chancellor – lobbied against it.
Kevin took up the cause of cadets wrongly killed at Deepcut Barracks and was chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.
A devout Roman Catholic despite his equally strong belief in socialism or Labour Party principles (he would have said ‘because or, not despite’) he was awarded by the Vatican a Knighthood of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great by the Catholic Church.
He is survived by his widow Nora, three sons and a daughter. He was predeceased by one of his and Nora’s sons.
Labour MP Conor McGinn, who is chair of the APPG for the Irish in Britain and a Merseyside MP, described Mr. McNamara as a “good man who never wavered in pursuit of peace, justice and equality.
“As Shadow Secretary of State he played a critical role in the early stages of the peace process that laid the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement.
“He was a proud son of Liverpool who moved back to the city after four decades of service to the people of Hull as their MP, and he continued to play a full and active role in Merseyside’s Irish community until very recently when he became ill.”
Ireland’s outgoing Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall said on Twitter: “Sad to learn of the death of Kevin McNamara. Wonderful man. Did great work last year on #1916 centenary. Sincere condolences to his family. Kevin had a lifelong affection for Ireland and was a stalwart of the Irish community in Britain.”
Ireland’s Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan tweeted: “Ireland was always at the top of his agenda.”
Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.