Fr Alec Reid, who was a significant figure during the initial peace process in Ireland, died this [Friday] morning, aged 82.
A native of County Tipperary, he died peacefully in a Dublin hospital, his Redemptorist Order said.
The influence of Fr Reid and his Catholic teachings are often credited with encouraging Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams towards peace at what was then a very difficult time in the conflict.
Fr Reid also facilitated talks in the late 1980s between the SDLP leader John Hume and Mr Adams which created the conditions for the first ceasefire by the Provisional IRA in 1994. His Redemptorist monastery in Clonard in west Belfast was the venue for much of the Hume-Adams talks and for other secret peace process negotiations.
Fr Reid was present in 1988 when mourners were attacked and killed in Milltown Cemetery at the funeral of three IRA Volunteers who had been ambushed by the SAS. He was famously pictured administering the last rites to two British soldiers captured and killed by the IRA after they were found spying on a subsequent republican funeral.
British Direct Ruler 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. “
Former SDLP leader John Hume said he was deeply saddened by the death of his friend.
In a statement, Mr Hume said: “Fr Reid was 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.
“Fr Alec was not simply a ‘go between’ in the early days of negotiating for peace. He was an active player in fighting for an end to violence.
“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.”
Mr Adams said Fr Reid’s base in west Belfast during the height of the conflict, Clonard, had been the cradle of the peace process.
“I feel deeply saddened. I have not absorbed it yet. I knew him for the last 40 years,” he said.
“He was also a very good friend of mine, of my wife, of my family. 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 -- I remember quite a few times saying he was like a terrier.”
He said that Fr Reid had “worked tirelessly” for all the people of Belfast and was “unstinting” in his efforts for peace.
“In the 1970’s along with Fr. Des Wilson he acted as a facilitator to end inter republican conflicts. They also started a dialogue with loyalist paramilitaries.
“Alec was a friend to the republican prisoners and especially those involved in the H Block and Armagh prison protests and hunger strikes and their families.”
“He and I had many discussions about the conflict, its causes and how it might be ended. Out of those conversations emerged a commitment to dialogue as the first necessary step along that process and a commencement of a process in the early 1980s to commence a process of dialogue with the Catholic Hierarchy, SDLP leader John Hume and the Irish and British governments.
“Fr Reid was tenacious in his pursuit of peace. He wrote copious letters to political leaders here and in Britain and engaged in countless meetings with politicians and government’s seeking to persuade them to start the process of talking. He saw good in everyone and lived the gospel message. His was the gospel of the streets.”
Fr Reid’s remains will repose at Marianella Chapel, 75 Orwell Road, Dublin 6 tomorrow from 2pm - 8pm and on Sunday from 1pm - 8pm. Mass will be held in the chapel at 11 am on Monday after which his remains will be taken to Clonard. An ecumenical Service of Gratitude for Fr Reid’s life and ministry will take place at 7.30 pm in Clonard Church. His funeral Mass will be at 12 noon in Clonard Church on Wednesday.