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Priest who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland dies aged 82

By on Friday, 22 November 2013

Fr Alec Reid wins the Tipperary Person of the Year award in 2006 (PA)

Fr Alec Reid wins the Tipperary Person of the Year award in 2006 (PA)

Fr Alec Reid, who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, has died aged 82 in a Dublin hospital.

During the 1980s, he secretly acted as a conduit between the IRA and politicians. He was instrumental in bringing about a 1994 ceasefire that led to peace talks and served as one of the witnesses who confirmed the decommissioning of IRA weapons in 2005.

Fr Reid is remembered as the priest who gave the last rites to two British army corporals, David Howes and Derek Wood, who were killed after they drove into a republican funeral.

In a BBC documentary earlier this year marking the 25th anniversary of that period of killings, Fr Reid recalled: “When I was lying between the two soldiers, I remember saying to myself, ‘This shouldn’t be happening in a civilised society.’ That motivated me or encouraged me to keep trying to get away from this kind of society where this kind of thing could happen.”

The image of Fr Reid praying over the stripped soldier stretched out in crucified form became one of the most powerful and harrowing images of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

In his effort to end the violence, Fr Reid facilitated talks between Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and John Hume, Social Democratic and Labour Party leader.

Mr Adams described Fr Reid as the “chaplain to the peace process”.

“This was one person making a difference when in the entire establishment had refused to open up dialogue,” he said. “And the whole credo of his Gospel life was the dignity of human beings and the need for dialogue.”

Mr Hume, one of the winners of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize for his work bringing peace to the region, called Fr Reid “a pillar of the peace process”.

“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.

“A man of faith and deep conviction, his commitment to our people was a key part of the foundation on which our early, fragile peace was built,” Mr Hume said.

Irish President Michael Higgins said Fr Reid “will perhaps best be remembered for the courageous part he played in identifying and nurturing the early seeds of an inclusive peace process”.

His “role as a channel for peace laid the ground for the achievement of the IRA ceasefire and created the political space for the multiparty talks that ultimately led to the Good Friday Agreement,” Mr Higgins said.

Coadjutor Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, described Fr Reid as a “model pastor”.

“He was a deeply spiritual priest who had a profound effect on everyone whom he met. His ministry was characterised by courage, and he worked hard behind the scenes to build peace through patient and delicate negotiation,” Archbishop Martin said.

He said Fr Reid’s engagement in the peace process was motivated by his deep faith.

“Guided by the Holy Spirit, he encouraged others to move forward, inch by inch, problem by problem, thereby gradually overcoming any obstacles and setbacks.

“The people of this island will forever owe Fr Reid an immeasurable debt of gratitude for his tireless work toward building a civilisation of love and peace,” the archbishop said.

Alec Reid was born in County Tipperary in 1931. He joined the Redemptorist order and went on to spend four decades based at Clonard Monastery in West Belfast during the conflict.

His funeral Mass will be celebrated in Clonard Monastery, the venue for many of the peace negotiations.

In recent years, he made several trips to Spain and worked to broker an end to the violent dispute in the Basque region.