Death of prominent Sinn Féin activist

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Widespread shock has greeted the news of the death of former Republican prisoner, Blanketman and Derry nationalists’ rights campaigner Donncha Mac Niallais.

One of the leaders of Derry’s Bogside Residents’ Group, Mr Mac Niallais dedicated his life to activism. He died suddenly at Derry’s Altnagelvin Hospital on Friday.

He was a son of the former Sinn Féin representative Mary Nelis. His death is the fourth tragedy to befall his family, following the premature deaths of his brothers, Liam, Martin and Peter. He is survived by his partner Karen and four children.

A former republican prisoner, Mr Mac Niallais took part in the Blanket protests of the early 1980s. Following the Drumcree Orange march stand-off in 1995, he was appointed chairman of the Bogside Residents Group which tackled the problem of provocative unionist parades. He played a major role in reaching an agreement with the Apprentice Boys’ which defused tensions over their marches through the city centre. A fluent Irish speaker, he was also a language and culture activist.

Hundreds of people packed the church and grounds of St Columba’s, Long Tower for Requiem Mass on Monday. They were joined by Sinn Féin First Minister-designate, Michelle O’Neill and former party president, Gerry Adams along with Mr Mac Niallais’s brother-in-law, Stormont junior minister, Declan Kearney. Retired Stormont Speaker, Mitchel McLaughlin and former Sinn Féin mayor of Derry, Gerry O hEara delivered the graveside oration.

His sister Cathy told mourners at his funeral that her brother’s early life was set against the backdrop of the unionist gerrymander in the city as well as internment and Bloody Sunday.

“Just over ten years after Donncha was born the civil rights march was attacked at Duke Street. Donncha’s childhood and early teens witnessed massive state repression with the introduction of internment and the massacre on Bloody Sunday - this against a background of gerrymandering, discrimination and institutional sectarianism. He was deeply affected by all of these events and the arrests, imprisonments and killings of friends and neighbours,” she said.

As a young teenager Donncha felt compelled to act to change that situation, and it was in the early 1970s that he told his mother Mary, that ‘he had to take a different path to bring about change’.

“Donncha’s decision and actions as a political activist eventually led him to the H-Blocks in 1976, where he was later joined by John [his brother] and both refused to be criminalised.

“Donncha was a proud blanket man and prisoner of war”.

She added: “He was an inspiration whose legacy will continue to endure for many years to come. Ta se imithe ar shli na firinne, i measc laochra na nGael go raibh a anam uasal.”

Many tributes were paid as news spread of the death of the Sinn Féin community worker. A new mural of him was also unveiled in the Bogside at the weekend.

Extending his condolences on the death of the “lifelong Republican and local community leader”, local Sinn Féin representative Padraig Delargy said: “His loss will be felt right across the community, by his family, and all of us who loved and knew him. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.”

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