Controversial priest Fr Denis Faul has died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Church leaders and nationalist politicians last night paid tribute to the 74 year-old Dungannon man.
Often known as ‘Denis the Menace’, Fr Faul was a critic of British injustice and human rights abuses but also opposed some actions and policies of the IRA. Fr Faul is most associated with the end of the Long Kesh hunger strike, when he intervened with the families of the remaining prisoners fasting.
Fr Faul emerged as a forthright critic of the British justice system during the late 1960s and campaigned for an end to brutality against republicans imprisoned in Long Kesh.
He also tirelessly campaigned for the release of the Birmingham Six and Guilford Four.
Monsignor Faul was pastor in Long Kesh prison during the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes and became alienated from many republicans when he intervened with the families of the remaining prisoners fasting in 1981.
Monsignor Faul was widely regarded as outspoken and a man of integrity.
Announcing his death, Archbishop Sean Brady - Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland - described Monsignor Faul as a man who “stood up for what he believed in, stood up for the distraught, no matter what their class, religion or background”.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams expressed his deep regret on learning of the death of the controversial cleric.
Mr Adams said: “Although Irish republicans and Fr Faul seriously differed, particularly around the 1981 hunger strike, he nonetheless played a pivotal role in the 1970s and ‘80s in highlighting human rights abuses by the British state.
“Along with the late Fr Brian Brady, Fr Raymond Murray, and Fr Des Wilson, and a number of human rights groups like the Association for Legal Justice, Fr Faul was instrumental in drawing attention to collusion, torture, and shoot-to-kill actions by British forces.”
Former SDLP leader, John Hume described Monsignor Faul as “a leading champion for civil rights and human rights in Ireland”.
“He was a leading figure in the promotion of a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland,” Mr Hume said.
Birmingham Six member Johnny Walker described Mgr Faul as “the top man”.
Mr Walker, who was falsely imprisoned for 17 years for the 1974 Birmingham bombings, said Mgr Faul took up his case as soon as he was convicted.
“He was the top man. He took our case up when nobody wanted to know us.
“As far as I am concerned, he was a real gentleman. When we were being written off by the Church in England, he and Father Raymond Murray stuck their necks out and were there for us,” he said.
Former hunger striker Lawrence McKeown remembers Monsignor Faul smuggling cigarettes, tobacco and pens to prisoners on the H-Blocks. He would also keep the prisoners up-to-date with football scores and developments outside the prison, but things changed.
“I do think that the steps he took to intervene in the hunger strike were totally reprehensible in the extent to which he went to manipulate the families of those on the fast.”
It was also significant, said McKeown, that in later years Monsignor Faul became a vocal opponent of republicanism.
“He was a bit of a conundrum. He had a flawed side of his character, but we can’t take it away from him - in the 1970s he took a forthright stand on torture and brutality. The community looked to him in the 1970s, but didn’t in the 1980s.”