Beattie, John (‘Jack’) (1886–1960), socialist and trade unionist, was born 14 April 1886 into a presbyterian family in Ballymacarrett, Belfast, son of Robert Beattie, dealer, and Eliza Beattie (née Downey). He left school aged 13 and worked at the Belfast Ropeworks before joining the army in 1903. After three years service in South Africa, first as a batman and then in the King's Royal Hussars, he returned to Belfast and became an apprentice blacksmith in Harland & Wolff's shipyard. Soon afterwards he joined the Belfast branch of the Independent Labour Party and, like most of its members, supported home rule. He acted as a minder for Winston Churchill at a home rule rally in Celtic Park, Belfast, in 1912, and intervened to save him from a unionist attack. During the first world war he was appointed assistant secretary of the Associated Blacksmiths' Society, for which he undertook a fact-finding mission to the western front; he later became the society's full-time organiser (1921–5). He joined the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) in 1924, and was active in municipal politics, representing the Victoria ward on the Belfast board of guardians (1923–6). In 1925 he topped the poll in Belfast East in elections to the Northern Ireland parliament, and joined his labour colleagues in opposition to the unionist party. After the abolition of proportional representation, he was the only labour MP elected to the parliament in 1929, for Pottinger, east Belfast (1929–49). A staunch anti-partitionist, he claimed that he no longer wished to see Northern Ireland continue as the ‘moth-eaten tail of the British lion’ (Irish Times, 10 March 1960). Most of his electoral support was catholic, but his trade union connections won him many protestant votes. A strong critic of the unionist government, in the early 1930s he was prominent in cross-community protests at its apparent indifference to economic hardship. On 30 September 1932 he caused a stir by throwing the mace at the feet of James Craig (qv) in protest at the elimination from the order paper of his motion on unemployment. During the 1930s his relations with the unionist NILP leader, Harry Midgley (qv), already soured by personal rivalry, deteriorated. After his appointment as an official of the nationalist Irish National Teachers' Organisation in 1934, Beattie was expelled from the NILP and sat as an independent. But he retained sufficient support in the NILP to be readmitted in summer 1942, becoming party leader (December) and prompting the departure of Midgley. He was regarded as a maverick; his base in the party was never particularly solid, and he was expelled again in 1944 for publicising his anti-partition views. After this he formed the short-lived Federation of Labour, a loose organisation committed to socialism and Irish unity. He was Westminster MP for Belfast West (1943–50, 1951–5), but lost his Stormont seat in 1949 in a contest made bitter and violent by the revival of the anti-partition campaign; on the hustings he was forced to wear a miner's helmet for protection after being pelted with oranges studded with razor blades. He was a founder member of the Irish Labour Party in Northern Ireland in 1949, which attracted most of the NILP's anti-partitionists. He also had a notable victory over Harry Diamond (qv) for the Smithfield seat on Belfast corporation in July 1951, despite Diamond's efforts to make the election a sectarian contest. This, however, was his last electoral success: he finished bottom of the poll in Belfast Central in the Stormont general election of 1953 and after he lost his Westminster seat in 1955 to the unionist Florence Patricia McLaughlin (qv) he retired from politics. Beattie was neither a distinguished public speaker nor a labour theorist, but made up for his lack of inspirational qualities with political shrewdness and resilience. Never comfortable with party discipline, he was, according to a colleague, ‘very much a one-man band' (Staunton, 178). He died in Belfast 9 March 1960. He was survived by his second wife, Violet Beattie (née McMaster), daughter of a wealthy builder, (his first wife died in 1943) and a son and daughter.
Ir. News, Ir. Times, 10 Mar. 1960; WWW; Graham Walker, ‘The life and times of Jack Beattie’, Obair (May 1984); Graham Walker, The politics of frustration: Harry Midgley and the failure of labour in Northern Ireland (1985); Emmet O'Connor, A labour history of Ireland (1992); McRedmond; Enda Staunton, The nationalists of Northern Ireland (2001); GRO (Dublin)