Fr Alec Reid – one of the most significant figures of the Northern Ireland peace process has died in hospital in Dublin.
He passed away in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin at 06:40 GMT today Friday November 22.
Fr Reid, 82, a member of the Redemptorist order, brokered talks between the IRA, represented by Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and the SDLP leader John Hume, and was one of the witnesses trusted to confirmed the decommissioning of IRA weapons.
In recent years, he was involved in talks with Basque nationalists seeking independence from Spain.
Born in County Tipperary in 1931 and raised in Nenagh, he joined the Redemptorist Order and spent four decades at Clonard Monastery in west Belfast.
He was the priest who, in March 1988, gave the last rites to two murdered British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, after they drove into an IRA funeral cortege. They had been dragged from their car, beaten and shot.
A UK Ministry of Defence spokesman said:”Fr Alec Reid’s intervention to administer last rites epitomised his enormous faith and strength of conviction. His comfort was given amidst the enormous fears and tension on that terrible day in March 1988.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said Frt. Reid’s Clonard monastery in west Belfast during was “the cradle of the peace process” and Fr Reid was “chaplain to the peace process”.
“What Alec Reid did was, he lived the gospel message. He developed a view which was contrary to the official view, that there had to be dialogue, and he was tenacious.
“This was one person making a difference when in the entire establishment had refused to open up dialogue and the whole credo of his gospel life was the dignity of human beings and the need for dialogue.”
Mr. Adams was with Fr Reid on Thursday night in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin.
Former SDLP leader John Hume said of Fr Reid: “He was an active player in fighting for an end to violence. Without his courage, determination and utter selflessness, the road to peace in our region would have been much longer and much more difficult to traverse.
“While we mourn the loss of a great man, we must also celebrate the legacy of peace and an opportunity to reconcile our people that he gave to us. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to waste.”
President Michael D Higgins said: “His ministering of the last rites to the two British corporals brutally killed in 1988 offered us an image of decency struggling to assert itself amidst brutality.”
He said that while Fr Reid would have been “gratified by the positive transformation that is under way throughout Northern Ireland, and especially in the Belfast that he loved so well”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “Fr Reid made major contributions at so many critical times during the peace process. Like so many people on this island, I will never forget the tragic picture in 1988, when Father Reid was photographed administering the last rites to a British army soldier killed in west Belfast, demonstrating his deep respect for human dignity and life.”
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he “made an essential contribution to the peace process during its most challenging and crucial periods” and “conducted himself with integrity and compassion even in the most difficult of circumstances. His deep respect for human dignity was evident at all times. We are the poorer for his passing today but Ireland is very much the richer for his labours.”
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said: “Alec opposed violence and understood that the key to making progress was through reaching out to others, regardless of their background.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “Fr Alec Reid was a man of great dignity and his service to society embodied decency and respect for everyone. He made an immeasurable contribution to the peace process and he has left a legacy of peace and hope for a better future for all.”
His co-witness to the weapons decommissioning, the Reverend Good, said Fr Reid had helped people hear each other and to trust themselves with his patience and unique ability to create trusting friendships.
Reverend Good said: “Through persistent endeavour, to taking time with people, to helping to understand that they could no longer go on saying no and could no longer closing doors that the time had come for people to actually listen to each other and to hear each other “.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said “we all owe a debt of gratitude to him for the role he played in the peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.”
SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said: “I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Fr Alec Reid who dedicated his life to ensuring peace was realised on this Island. His death reminds us that we haven’t quite reached completion in terms of the peace process and we must re-double our efforts to achieve a lasting settlement. The courage and bravery displayed by Father Reid during the troubles has been a shining example to people right across the world.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said: “It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Fr Alec Reid this morning. Fr Reid played a pivotal role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland. I was always struck by his humility and compassion for people on all sides of the Troubles. He had a remarkable capacity to put everyone he met at ease and his diplomacy, patience and influence led to the initiation of peace talks in the eighties which eventually lead to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.”
Fr Reid’s remains will repose at Marianella Chapel on Orwell Road in Dublin from 2pm to 8pm tomorrow (Sat) and from 1pm to 8pm on Sunday.
There will be mass in Marianella Chapel on Monday at 11am after which Fr Reid will be brought to Clonard Church in Belfast where he will lie in repose on Monday between 4pm and 9pm and on Tuesday from 9am to 9pm. An ecumenical service will be held on Tuesday at 7.30pm. Fr Reid will be buried following funeral mass at Clonard Church next Wednesday at 12pm. Fr Reid’s funeral will take place at 12:00 GMT on Wednesday after requiem Mass in Clonard church in west Belfast.