Irish tributes to South African social justice campaigner

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There have been accolades in Ireland to the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who famously fought against the apartheid regime in South Africa and against oppression around the world.

The Archbishop passed away this week at the age of 90.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Archbishop Tutu as “a tireless campaigner for social justice and reconciliation.”

“He was the conscience of South Africa and beyond,” Mr Martin said.

“His unshakeable faith in humanity brought people together in Northern Ireland too, a vital part of our own peace process.”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald also paid tribute, saying she was saddened to hear of Mr Tutu’s death.

“His life was marked by a courageous determination to confront and oppose the injustice of apartheid in his beloved South Africa.

“He was a defender of human rights and a fearless and outspoken voice for the marginalised worldwide.”

Ms McDonald said he was “a friend to Ireland” and he “strongly supported the Irish peace process”.

She said that he was highly respected in Ireland, and across the world, and “whose legacy of fighting injustice and defending human rights will never be lost or forgotten.”

Throughout the peace process he supported inclusive talks involving Sinn Fein, but his calls for a truth and reconciliation process for Ireland fell on deaf ears.

In 2001, he paid a visit to the Holy Cross school in Ardoyne, Belfast, where Catholic schoolchildren had come under violent daily attack from an orchestrated campaign of loyalist hate.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” he wrote.

His journey to the award ceremony to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo involved a stopover in London, where he asked Irish anti-apartheid activists, the Dunnes Stores strikers, to meet him.

The Dunnes Stores strike began on 19 July 1984 when 21-year-old check-out operator Mary Manning was suspended for refusing to handle South African grapefruit.

Nine of her colleagues at the store in Dublin’s Henry Street walked out in support of her that day, beginning a strike that would last for two years and nine months.

The more the strikers learned about life in South Africa, the more determined they became not to give in and the more the cause snowballed in Ireland and abroad.

Speaking to the Féach programme on RTÉ, Tutu called for “a groundswell of support” for the strikers.

“They certainly have made their point, at very great cost to themselves and this is what I would commend them for,” he said.

In April 1987, as a result of public pressure over the strike and the apartheid regime, the Irish government banned the import of South African goods.

An online celebration of the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu is to be held for his Irish friends and supporters ahead of his funeral on Saturday.

Irish peace and human rights campaign group Afri is behind the Celebration of the Life of Desmond Tutu event, which is taking place later today (Thursday) from 8-9pm.

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