Vital conduit when hope seemed lost
Profile: Early stages of peace process rested on priest’s persistence and trust
Fr Alec Reid: politicians credit him with utter trustworthiness and a persistence that kept the fragile peace process going. Photograph: EPA
Alexander (Alec) Reid was born in 1931 in Dublin and raised in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, from where his mother hailed. He was professed a Redemptorist in 1949 when he began his studies for the priesthood and was ordained in 1957.
He was educated at the Christian Brothers’ school in Nenagh before attending the Redemptorists’ novitiate in Galway. He studied history, English and philosophy at University College Galway.
He gave retreats all over Ireland before being sent to the Redemptorist community in west Belfast in 1961, where he was to minister for the next 44 years.
Fr Reid had close connections with republican paramilitary organisations, due to his efforts to end vicious feuding between various strands of the wider republican movement and through his ministry in the Maze prison. He celebrated Mass there for republican prisoners and got to know Gerry Adams, who was a prisoners’ spokesman.
He also tried to convince Bobby Sands not to go through with his 1981 hunger strike.
He became convinced republican violence could be ended if a political alternative, acceptable to the Provisionals, could be built.
The secret meeting took place in Clonard Monastery in west Belfast, with Fr Reid acting as a conduit between republicans and the British government.
He is perhaps best known for his efforts to prevent the killings of two British corporals who had driven their unmarked car into a republican funeral in Andersonstown. Images of Fr Reid giving the last rites over the bloodied body of one of the soldiers became emblematic of the worst of the Troubles.
He continued to facilitate talks between Mr Hume and Mr Adams, which ultimately led to the Downing Street Declaration of 1993 – an initiative that facilitated the IRA ceasefire of August 1994.
He retained his political contacts with paramilitaries, politicians and governments and was called upon, alongside former president of the Methodist Church, the Rev Harold Good, to oversee IRA weapons decommissioning in September 2005.
He left Clonard for Dublin, but continued his peace work in the Basque Country, working again alongside the Rev Good in trying to broker an Eta ceasefire.
Fr Reid retired to the Redemptorist community in Rathgar, Dublin, and died in St Vincent’s hospital in the city after a long illness.
Fr Reid was an unknown yet crucial element in the early peace process. Tributes from politicians credit him with utter trustworthiness and a persistence that kept the fragile peace process going in the few years when hope so often seemed to be lost.
His last known interview was given last July for TV3’s programme, Sinn Féin: Who Are They?, to be broadcast on Monday at 10pm.