One of the oldest republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison, Sean O’Neill, has passed away from cancer in Limerick this week while still being actively sought by the British authorities in the North for “breaching bail”.
Mr O’Neill was arrested during a raid in November 2014 on a house in Newry where a meeting was taking place of the leadership of ‘Continuity Sinn Fein’, which had just split from Republican Sinn Fein. The meeting was bugged by MI5 and eleven men were arrested under charges of ‘directing terrorism’. They were then subjected to internment by remand, with no date set for trial.
After Mr O’Neill received highly conditional bail two years ago, British authorities refused to make any additional allowance following his diagnosis of late-stage bowel cancer. In January this year, Maghaberry prison authorities said the dying man “failed to surrender to custody as required” and an arrest warrant was issued. He had been moved from Dublin back to Limerick so that he could see his final days amongst his comrades and friends.
His colleagues in the CSF-linked Irish Republican Prisoners Dependants Fund have pointed to his treatment by warders in the North, where he was subjected to some eighty degrading strip-searches, and was handcuffed and strapped down throughout months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. On one of his trips to the hospital, he suffered serious head injuries when the prison transportation bus came to a sudden halt.
Whilst in hospital in Dublin fighting for his life, the High Court in Belfast rejected medical evidence and handed down an extradition warrant for Mr O’Neill to be brought back to the North. Although that was successfully challenged, he was then refused permission to be bailed to his home in Limerick and a new warrant for his arrest was issued.
He was buried in Limerick this week with a republican guard of honour among his mourning family and friends. His funeral was subjected to a heavy presence of Garda Special Branch police.
Separately, Sinn Fein has paid tribute to an “inspirational” party official and County Meath councillor following his death.
Joe Reilly, who was 67, passed away this week following a battle with cancer which had been diagnosed in November. A former IRA Volunteer, Mr Reilly served as a Sinn Fein councillor for almost 25 years and played a major role in the party’s internal organisation during the peace process.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the party was “heartbroken” by Mr Reilly’s death. “Joe was a tireless republican leader and an inspirational friend to so many. He was dearly loved and he will be greatly missed,” she said.
“Joe was deeply respected by all who knew him. His honour, honesty and integrity both as a republican activist and a public representative shone brightly for all to see.
“He was dedicated to his community and to making Ireland a better place for everybody.”
Sinn Fein has also paid tribute to US business figure Bill Flynn, who Gerry Adams described as “a champion of peace in Ireland”.
A prominent supporter of the peace process, he encouraged the Provisional Republican Movement to commit to abandon the armed struggle. As the first Irish-American chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, he invited Gerry Adams to the US. The late Martin McGuinness said he was “one of the heroes of the peace process.”
“Bill’s importance can be measured in the frequency with which all of the governments - Irish, British and US - talk to him and seek to involve him in whatever the current initiative might be,” wrote Mr Adams.
“I always make a point of trying to meet Bill every time I visit New York. His analysis of the political situation in the USA and in Ireland, was always insightful. He was a good American patriot and a decent human being. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis”.