Hanna, Francis (‘Frank’) (1915–87), lawyer and politician, was born in the Falls Road area of Belfast and was educated at St Mary's CBS, Belfast, before attending QUB to study law. While at Queen's Hanna established himself as one of the leading students in his year, earning a scholarship in property, equity, and conveyance law. After graduating with honours (1935), he came third in the final solicitors', examination and opened his own legal practice in Belfast (1936). He quickly developed a reputation in the field of workers' compensation claims, advising individual clients on their rights as well as acting as a legal adviser to a number of large trade unions in Ireland such as the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and the Electrical Trades Union. In addition, in the 1950s and 1960s Hanna was to take up an appointment as a voluntary lecturer with the National Council of Labour Colleges, giving classes across Ireland to trade union branches on the subject of workers' rights under compensation law. The nature of his work as a lawyer also brought him into contact with trade union activists in Britain and he regularly attended the annual conferences of the Trade Union Congress and the British Labour party.
Outside his legal work, he had from an early age become involved in the political scene in Northern Ireland; in 1938 he was the youngest candidate ever to be selected and subsequently to win a seat for the nationalist party as a councillor for the Falls ward on Belfast city council (1938–46). During the second world war his disillusionment with the party over its lack of a radical social programme led to his joining the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) which, to attract support from both catholic and protestant working-class areas, allowed individual members to decide for themselves on the question of partition. For someone like Hanna this appeared to be the perfect solution – in representing a nationalist area he could stress his determination to work to end partition, while supporting a broadly labour programme that emphasised the need for social and economic reform. It was on exactly this platform that Hanna fought the by-election in August 1946 for the Stormont constituency of Belfast Central. The contest had been caused by the decision of the sitting nationalist MP, T. J. Campbell (qv), to accept the Northern Ireland government's offer to become a county court judge (November 1945). After some deliberation the nationalist party decided not to nominate anyone, and Hanna's victory (over a rival labour candidate) was remarkable in that it marked the end of a process that had seen the labour movement, in various fields of activity, effectively seize control of catholic working-class areas of Belfast.
He was only the second catholic MP to have represented the NILP since partition, and joined his other two colleagues at Stormont to provide an active opposition to the policies of the Unionist government. The postwar period, however, proved very difficult for the party as internal tensions arose over the issue of the border. Within Northern Ireland, nationalists had begun an anti-partition campaign, hoping to attract support both in southern Ireland and in Britain. In doing so, relations were developed with an ad hoc group of British Labour backbench MPs known as the ‘Friends of Ireland’. The activities of this temporary alliance alarmed those elements within the NILP who favoured making clear the party's support for partition. Hanna and other anti-partition elements within the NILP objected, and instead in early 1949 decided to forge links with the Irish Labour Party (ILP) to enable it to begin organising within Northern Ireland. In the Stormont general election in January 1949, which effectively became a referendum on the border, Hanna stood and was returned unopposed as Independent Labour candidate.
However, his relations with those actively working to establish the ILP in Northern Ireland soon began to deteriorate, with fundamental differences emerging. As a devout catholic Hanna based his commitment to social and economic reform on the ideas of papal encyclicals rather than on pure socialist doctrine. When the ILP denounced the extent of catholic influence on legislation and laws in the Republic of Ireland, Hanna – along with another MP, Harry Diamond (qv) of Republican Labour – tried to use the opportunity of the Stormont election of October 1953 to drive it out of the city. In his own Central constituency he was opposed by two other labour candidates, one of them a member of the ILP, the other a unionist. During his campaign Hanna attacked the ILP and stressed his strong religious beliefs, his support for catholic institutions such as schools and the Mater Hospital, and the need to ensure that the seat, one of only two in Belfast to be held by a catholic, continued to be so held. This campaign against the ILP continued throughout the rest of the 1950s, reaching its peak at the 1958 elections for Belfast corporation when Hanna's Independent Labour group, formed from prominent catholic figures in the city with the assistance of members of the clergy, ousted its rivals from all of the seats previously held in catholic areas of the city.
Throughout Hanna's political career at Stormont he maintained a reasonably close working relationship with other opposition MPs within the nationalist party as well as socialist republicans such as Diamond. In the early 1960s, when pressure began to grow for closer ties among those who represented northern nationalists, Hanna took part in an attempt to bring these about through the formation of the National Popular Front (1964). A year later, however, he decided to announce his retirement from politics to concentrate on his own law practice, and so chose not to stand as a candidate at the general election of November 1965.
After retiring from his legal practice he settled in Dublin and after a long illness he died in the Mater Private Hospital on 21 November 1987. His wife Ida and five children – Vincent (qv), Grace, Francis, Michael, and Barbara – survived him.