Diamond, Harry (1908–96), politician, was born 10 May 1908 at 33 Springfield Road, west Belfast, and baptised Henry Diamond, the son of Patrick Diamond, bootmaker, and his wife, Mary (née Henry). He was educated at St Paul's national school, off the Falls Road, and then joined his father's business. In 1927 he was the principal founder and first chairman of O'Donnell's GAA Club; he later became chairman of the Antrim county board of the GAA.
Diamond became active in the nationalist party after his debating skills caught the attention of Joseph Devlin (qv), MP. From 1929 to 1936 he served on the (elected) Belfast board of poor law guardians, where he promoted the interests of outdoor relief recipients (who were subjected to humiliating tests and interrogations, often with a sectarian undercurrent, to prove to the satisfaction of middle-class guardians that they were not entirely responsible for their own deprived circumstances), and also exposed instances where relieving officers embezzled relief payments. In 1932 he participated in outdoor relief protests which produced one of the few cross-community riots in Belfast history. On one occasion Diamond threw a doormat at the chairman of the board, Lily Coleman, after she had refused to allow debate on a motion by him calling for the abolition of the means test for unemployment relief.
Disenchanted by the middle-class ethos of the nationalist party and by its inability to make any impact on the unionist majority at Stormont, Diamond helped to arrange a meeting between Devlin and David Matthews, OC of the Belfast IRA, at which the wearied Devlin agreed to allow Sinn Féin a clear run at the West Belfast Westminster constituency. In November 1933 Diamond was arrested while attending a protest meeting against the detention without trial of a group of young republicans. He was charged with contempt of court and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment. When Devlin died in January 1934, Diamond contested the subsequent Belfast Central Stormont by-election as an anti-partition candidate, but was defeated by the nationalist Thomas Joseph Campbell (qv) and came third behind the NILP candidate William McMullen (qv). To the end of his life Diamond spoke of Devlin with respect and believed that he had been genuinely concerned for ordinary people, but that (especially after his death) the nationalist party apparatus in the city had been taken over by businessmen (especially publicans) whose main concern was to advance their own interests.
Diamond co-founded the Anti-Partition League in May 1934; this advocated a more intransigent nationalist position, including abstention from Stormont. In July 1936 he was a co-founder of the national unity organising committee, a group of former nationalist party activists which advocated a 32-county republic and called for abstentionism North and South.
In 1937 Diamond went to England, where he spent six years as a fitter and trade union activist (and where, according to the IRA activist Harry White, he allowed his home to be used as an IRA safe house during the 1939 bombing campaign in England). His return coincided with the final disintegration of the nationalist party in Belfast. For the next quarter-century Belfast nationalist politics would revolve around a number of competing groups describing themselves by various ‘labour’ titles, but acting primarily as small-scale support groups for rival leaders, of whom Diamond was one. In 1944 he was a founder member of the Socialist Republican Party (SRP), and became its only Stormont MP when he took the Belfast Falls constituency from the nationalists in 1945 (after a campaign in which he denounced them as a ‘middle-class party’ (Lynn, 17)). He campaigned for the release of IRA prisoners (as he did in 1962 after the end of the ‘border campaign’). White remembered Diamond as ‘the only sound Irishman that ever went through Stormont . . . at our [the IRA's] beck and call, ready always to do what he could . . . a man of the people’ (MacEoin, Harry, 151–2).
On 4 July 1946 Diamond attended the founding rally of Clann na Poblachta in Dublin; a short time previously he had acted as a pallbearer for the Northern IRA activist Sean McCaughey, who died on hunger strike in Portlaoise prison on 11 May 1946. (As late as 1955 the Dublin Department of External Affairs believed that Diamond and his followers were inclined to ‘flirt with the IRA’ (Staunton, 200).) In the 1940s and 1950s he participated in various initiatives aimed at uniting the disparate nationalist groups and at giving northern nationalists some formal input into the policies of the Dublin government; these, however, were defeated by southern indifference and the fissiparous personality politics of the North.
Diamond was re-elected to Stormont in 1949, but shortly afterwards the SRP dissolved itself and its members joined a ‘six-county council’ intended to unite various anti-partition groups in a northern wing of the Irish Labour Party (ILP) after the NILP's decision formally to support the union with Britain and the subsequent secession of anti-partitionist NILP members such as Jack Macgougan (1913–98). This group shared the nationalist-labour view, based on assertion rather than argument, that the interests of the working class self-evidently lay in an end to partition (a view whose tensions are indicated by Diamond's declaration at this time that ‘Beveridge bribes’ would not lead nationalists to abandon their principles). As a Stormont MP, Diamond took a prominent role in this realignment and became chairman of the new ‘regional council’; in October 1949, addressing the ILP conference, he predicted the speedy arrival of a 32-county Labour government.
After the merger was completed in January 1950, Diamond became one of two Northern Ireland representatives on the Irish Labour Party's national executive. The Northern Irish wing soon began to splinter through personal rivalries embittered by sectarian tensions over the presence and views of activists from a protestant background such as Macgougan and Jack Beattie (qv), MP; these tensions increased after the mother-and-child-scheme controversy in 1951 raised the issue of the catholic church's role in the republic. Frank Hanna (qv), Stormont MP for Belfast Central, was the first to leave; soon afterwards Diamond protested that resolutions declaring that in a united Ireland protestants should be allowed to order their lives as they saw fit and stating that no religious ceremonies should be held under the auspices of the party were ‘a slander on the majority’. In retrospect Macgougan described Diamond as ‘a nationalist with some working-class sympathies’ rather than a socialist with some nationalist tendencies, and thought it had been a mistake to try to incorporate figures such as Diamond and Hanna within the ILP (‘Reminiscence’, 119). In 1993 Diamond – exercising selective memory – told an interviewer that he had always favoured ‘a mixture of non-violent republicanism with socialist objectives’ (Lynn, 249).
In 1951 Diamond was expelled from the ILP when he resigned his aldermancy in the Falls district to oppose Beattie for a council seat in the Smithfield ward, which had fallen vacant after the sitting councillor emigrated to Australia; Diamond was defeated after a campaign in which he used the slogan ‘freeman or freemason?’ He and his supporters accused the ILP of communist infiltration (claiming that William Norton (qv) was ‘refusing to face the fundamental national issue’ and ‘would not win Unionist voters by sacrificing national principles’ (Saothar, xxi (1996)). These appeals to catholic clericalism and anti-communism were somewhat cynical; Diamond's closest lieutenant, Victor Halley, was a presbyterian who had supported the Spanish republicans against Franco.
From 1951 until 1963 Diamond essentially functioned as an independent, though using the label ‘republican labour’. Four nationalist-labour groupings contested the 1953 Stormont elections; the ILP was routed by Diamond in Falls (where Macgougan came third) and by Hanna's ‘independent labour’ in Central, and was wound up in 1958 after its remaining Belfast councillors lost their seats to Hanna's group following a ‘red scare’ campaign. (The fourth group, a splinter formed by former Diamond supporter Tim O'Sullivan, became the Dock Labour Party.)
At Stormont, Diamond was an outspoken critic of the unionist regime, calling for local government reform, an end to gerrymandering, and a points system for the allocation of local government housing; he was frequently expelled from the house for the ferocity of his invective against the state and the British royal family. In 1958 he attempted to persuade the nationalist party to federate with other anti-partition representatives to claim the title of official opposition at Stormont rather than ceding it to the NILP. (This fell through because some nationalist MPs saw such a move as an unacceptable compromise of nationalist principle.) From 1959 to 1960 Diamond gave assistance to the middle-class modernising nationalist movement National Unity (later the National Democratic Party (NDP)), and in 1963 he joined with the Dock Labour Party councillor Gerry Fitt (qv) (1926–2005), whose re-election to the corporation he had supported in 1961, in the Republican Labour Party (RLP). This merger was described by one commentator as ‘two one-man parties merged to become one two-man party’ (Ryder, 72). Diamond later recruited Paddy Kennedy (qv). (Fitt, however, fell out with Kennedy and claimed Diamond had been unduly impressed by the younger man's BA degree.)
In October 1964 Diamond contested the West Belfast Westminster seat but was defeated by unionist James Kilfedder (qv). The election was also contested by the NILP candidate Billy Boyd, who some commentators thought might take enough pro-union working-class votes to allow Diamond in on a minority vote (although the nationalist vote was also divided by the presence of a left-wing republican candidate, Billy McMillen (d. 1975)). The election was marked by riots after the RUC removed an illegally displayed tricolour from the window of McMillen's election offices. While the display of such flags in nationalist areas was normally overlooked, Ian Paisley (qv) had called attention to it and threatened to lead a loyalist crowd to remove it if the authorities did not do so; Diamond later claimed that the authorities had connived with Paisley in the hope of maximising unionist turnout. It was noted as a sign of nationalist apathy and despair, however, that the indignation felt over the police intervention did not translate into increased nationalist turnout for either Diamond or McMillen – though this may also mean that some catholics voted for Boyd. Despondent over this outcome, Diamond chose not to contest the 1966 Westminster election, in the belief that the seat was unwinnable because of the presence of an NDP candidate. Gerry Fitt, by unilaterally declaring his candidacy, managed to pressurise the NDP into withdrawing; he won the seat and became the most high-profile nationalist spokesman.
In 1969 Diamond lost his Stormont seat by just over 700 votes to Paddy Devlin (qv), a former ILP activist who had joined the NILP and who built up a base in Falls by cultivating labour and trade union activists (Diamond had no coherent organisation and relied on a few associates for campaign work). Devlin accused Diamond of neglecting his constituents. (Fitt later recalled that Diamond had seemed genuinely shocked that Fitt should spend so much time on helping constituents with their applications for state benefits, believing that MPs should leave such matters to councillors.) While Diamond did speak on civil rights issues (for example, he supported Austin Currie in raising the allocation of housing in Caledon, highlighted anti-catholic discrimination by Lurgan borough council in 1967, and accused Terence O'Neill (qv) of ‘Black and Tanism’ for his initially lukewarm response to the disruption of the Burntollet civil rights march by loyalists), Devlin complained that he had not been prominent in the civil rights movement and neglected bread and butter questions such as the decline of the linen industry and the planned redevelopment of the Lower Falls area. Diamond then retired to Glenariff, Co. Antrim.
In the late 1930s Diamond married Mary Leggett; this marriage was later annulled because she had contracted a previous marriage which remained undissolved. In 1958 he married Sinéad Nisbittin, and following her death in 1991 he married the following year Amy Brown, a close friend of his second wife. Diamond died 7 May 1996; his volatile mixture of labourism, republicanism, catholicism, and personality politics reflected the nature and limitations of Belfast nationalist politics between partition and the outbreak of the Troubles.