One of Dungannon District’s longest serving councillors, who is due to step down at the creation of the new Mid Ulster supercouncil, has spoken about the dark days that still haunt him.
When veteran SDLP representative Patsy Daly first took his seat at Dungannon and South Tyrone Council, politics was a dangerous career choice.
In spite of Patsy’s long and hard-working career, 42 years of civic service in total, to the fore of his memories are some of the darkest, most fearful days of the Troubles, when the local area earned the grim title ‘the Murder Triangle’.
Violence, including intimidation and threats, was rampant when Councillor Daly entered politics on June 14, 1973, just a year ahead of the first ill-fated power-sharing Executive brought down by the Ulster Workers Council strike.
“Being a SDLP councillor was very difficult in those days as you were being opposed by republicans and unionists”, he said. “Some extreme people were adamant that our party should not be making any moves towards reconciliation.
“I was concerned about my personal safety but my wife had to put up with a lot. She would get abusive phone calls and also calls warning me to watch my back. That was worrying for her when I was attending meetings.
“Those calls were anonymous but many of them came from republicans, not unionists.
“I didn’t mind anything that was said to my face, but it was worrying when my wife was the target as we had a young family at the time.”
At the time and for many years unionists held control of the council and even when representation became 50/50, the top posts were retained in unionist hands, sometimes by the casting vote of the outgoing chairman.
Cllr Daly believes power-sharing helped the council fulfil its potential. “We were able to concentrate on what we could do for all the people, not just for one side or the other.
Dungannon has a fairly strong industrial base and that is because the council showed it was a good place to invest”.
He has served both as Chairman and Mayor – holding the top post three times – and felt honoured to represent the area. Dungannon has one of the more diverse populations in the province with large numbers of immigrants from East Timor, Portugal and Lithuania (the council has introduced consular services for the Baltic state) and Cllr Daly believes they have played an important part in helping industry prosper in the area.
As he nears retirement, he says the funding support the council gave to local communities was one of its greatest achievements. “We helped sporting groups and community groups or anyone who met the criteria. That enabled those groups to cross divisions or build up their own areas.”
“It was better that they devised their own plans rather than have the council impose something on them. They were able to take ownership of the projects and had a vested interest in making them work.”