The Irish News Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick Dies Aged 92

The Irish News chairman Jim Fitzpatrick has died aged 92.

Mr Fitzpatrick was born in Belfast in 1929, the son of James F Fitzpatrick, a prominent County Down solicitor, and Ann Boylan, a schoolteacher who hailed from Ballybay in County Monaghan.

By the late 1930s Mr Fitzpatrick’s father had become a director of The Irish News, then controlled by the McSparran family from the Glens of Antrim, The Irish News reported in a piece by historian and friend Dr Éamon Phoenix. 

Mr Fitzpatrick and his brothers were sent to Limerick to be educated at St Clement’s College, a boarding school run by the Redemptorist Order. Returning north, he qualified as a solicitor and began to practise civil law in the family firm in College Square North.

The outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 coincided with Mr Fitzpatrick’s appointment as a director of The Irish News.

The bloodshed of August 1969 shocked him. Walking up the devastated Falls Road from his office on August 14, he witnessed at first hand the burning homes and the plight of local people as a result of the invasion of sectarian mobs, supported by the state’s part-time police force, the B Specials.

Jim immediately contacted a business colleague who despatched a fleet of lorries to help transport the stricken families and their possessions to safety.

The Irish News managing director Dominic Fitzpatrick, a member of the News Media Association council, paid tribute to his father on behalf of the family. “Dad was an inspiration to so many people,” he said.

“His desire to be involved in The Irish News was driven by a belief that society needed a newspaper that could stand for truth and justice, particularly at such a turbulent time in history.

“Under his direction the paper has been transformed into the success it is today.”

He added: “Dad really cared about people. He loved his work and was still coming to the office until a few weeks ago.”

In the troubled 1970s, when violence and unemployment blighted the lives of many young men in west Belfast, Mr Fitzpatrick became involved in several pioneering ventures in the area with the aim of providing recreational and employment outlets for local young men.

Though a minority voice on the board, he was keen to transform the paper to a modern, attractive daily, reflective of the needs and aspirations of the nationalist population at a time when political hope was fading fast.

Mr Fitzpatrick took a night course in journalism, learned shorthand and began to write articles and conduct interviews for the paper.

A temporary arrangement with the remaining members of the McSparran family allowed Mr Fitzpatrick, at the age of 52, to become managing editor of the paper.

These were uncertain and traumatic days for all concerned, not least the 150 employees. Mr Fitzpatrick outlined his vision of a modern, reinvigorated newspaper in tune with the hopes and aspirations of the nationalist community, then recovering from the trauma of the Hunger Strike.

If any shareholder was unhappy with his plans, he offered to purchase their shares.

This was to usher in an exciting new chapter for The Irish News. Mr Fitzpatrick, who had recently built the Fountain Centre, showed that he was a transformative figure who had a clear vision for the newspaper.

Over the next few years, Mr Fitzpatrick “invested everything he had” in The Irish News.

It was the first local newspaper to go for the direct input process, finally abandoning the old, revered hot metal process with its army of compositors. Wages and conditions were improved for staff.

In the dark, violent early 1980s, he threw his weight behind John Hume and the Irish government to facilitate the achievement of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. This he was convinced – and he was proven right – would in time provide the means for an inclusive, democratic and peaceful future based on consent and respect for both unionist and nationalist aspirations.

Until the last few weeks, Jim Fitzpatrick was a regular in The Irish News office, or at daily Mass in the neighbouring St Patrick’s Church.

Jim was predeceased by his wife Alice in 2013.