President Michael D. Higgins has led tributes to Trócaire aid worker Sally O’Neill who died following a road accident in Guatemala.
Mrs O’Neill, a native of Co. Tyrone, worked for the Church’s overseas aid agency for some 37 years in developing countries.
Reacting to the news of her death along with three colleagues, Archbishop Eamon Martin described her as “a true missionary of mercy and justice”.
Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra said: “We are heartbroken by this news. Sally was the heartbeat of Trócaire for almost 40 years. She was a truly remarkable person.
“Trócaire was only five years old when Sally joined. Sally built the foundations of the organisation. She embodied our values and through her courage and commitment to human rights touched the lives of so many people,” she said.
Describing Mrs O’Neill as “my friend” President Higgins said he was “greatly saddened” by the news.
He said Mrs O’Neill “distinguished herself for four decades through her commitment and unstinting belief in the dignity and inherent equality of all human beings.
“Her work placed her at the front line during some of the most significant global humanitarian crises,” he said, adding that her “early work in Central America was ground-breaking.
“Having translated for Oscar Romero just six weeks before his murder she would go on to engage with all those suffering in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala,” the President said.
Mrs O’Neill “understood the importance of combining tangible assistance and practical compassion with the pursuit of long-term solutions to the root causes of poverty, marginalisation and oppression”, he said, adding that “she empowered countless people” and was “relentless in calling on those with power to bring their influence to bear on the policies and politics that affected those most vulnerable”.
Mrs de Barra said: “I was with Sally last week in Guatemala. Despite having officially retired, she remained a driving force for human rights in Central America.
“Her drive, passion and commitment was as strong as ever. Sally was much beloved by communities and human rights activists throughout Central America. She dedicated her life to improving the lives of others.
“Her legacy will live on through the thousands of people whose lives she helped to improve,” he said.
Mrs O’Neill joined Trócaire in 1978 and worked primarily on Trócaire projects in Latin America, as well as providing famine relief in mid-1980s Ethiopia and Somalia in the early 1990s.
After her retirement in 2015, she worked in a voluntary capacity as a facilitator with prisoners and migrants in Honduras, where she lived.