Sinn Féin ‘heartbroken’ at death of key party figure
Joe Reilly was member of party’s negotiating team during talks on formation of the Belfast Agreement
Sinn Féin’s Joe Reilly with Gerry Adams in 2001. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Tributes have been paid following the death of long-serving Meath Sinn Féin councillor and Belfast Agreement talks negotiator Joe Reilly.
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said the party was “heartbroken” at the death of Mr Reilly (67) who died this morning after a short battle with a rare form of cancer.
Despite his illness, Mr Reilly, who served on Meath County Council for almost 25 years, fulfilled his last public engagement last Monday, launching a sponsorship deal with the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan.
A key player in Sinn Féin and close to the former party leadership team of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, he was a member of the party ard comhairle and was part of the Sinn Féin negotiating team during talks on the formation of the Belfast Agreement.
He was invited onto the podium at last December’s ardfheis by Gerry Adams during the former leader’s own retirement speech and the Navan man was given a standing ovation.
After being caught with other IRA members with explosives in a house in Dublin’s Donabate in 1975, he was sentenced to four years in prison, a sentence which was increased to 10 years after a failed escape attempt during a court appearance.
He was elected to Meath County Council in the 1994 local elections and topped the poll in the Navan Urban Council elections in 1999.
He went on to build the party in Meath, growing the number of elected Sinn Féin councillors from just one to eight at the last local elections.
He visited No 10 Downing Street a number of times and recently joked that after a meeting in Northern Ireland, the late Mo Mowlam, then Northern Secretary, told him he was wearing the “sexiest socks” in the room.
Despite his illness, he used a wheelchair to vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment last Friday, saying afterwards: “It’s the biggest transformation in Irish society for many years and I’m proud to be a part of that.
“It’s probably the last time I will vote so I’m delighted that my vote was a vote towards victory.”
In a statement, Ms McDonald said: “We are heartbroken at the loss of Joe Reilly. Joe was a tireless republican leader and an inspirational friend to so many. He was dearly loved and he will be greatly missed.
“Joe loved Meath and Navan. He was dedicated to his community and to making Ireland a better place for everybody. He made a huge contribution to Ireland
“Possessed with a sharp political mind and a ferocious work ethic, Joe Reilly was a member of the Sinn Féin ard comhairle and played a pivotal role in building the party.
“He was a key member of the Sinn Féin negotiation team which brokered the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr Adams, Mr Reilly’s long-time friend and Sinn Féin TD for Louth, said: “I have known Joe for many years. He was a good friend and a long-standing party member.
“Joe was a part of the Sinn Féin leadership which developed our peace strategy and participated in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement.
“I am lucky and honoured to know Joe. He was an extraordinary, compassionate, decent human being. We spent some time together yesterday and he faced his death with great courage. He will be missed.”
Meath Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said: “Joe was a good friend who wouldn’t shy away from telling you the truth. He was unique and it’s fair to say they don’t make ‘Joe Reillys’ anymore.”
Local Sinn Féin Councillor Sinead Burke said: “It was a privilege to have him as a friend and mentor. His most important legacy was his ability to encourage people to get involved in their community and made a difference themselves.”