'She was the heartbeat of Trócaire for almost 40 years': Irish aid worker killed in Guatemala

'She was the heartbeat of Trócaire for almost 40 years': Irish aid worker killed in Guatemala
Sally O'Neill. Picture: Trócaire

A retired Irish aid worker has been killed in a road collision in Guatemala.

Sally O'Neill, from Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, began working with Trócaire in 1978 and only retired in April 2015 after 37 years service.

Sally worked primarily in Latin America, working on the frontline during some of the world's most significant humanitarian crises.

During the conflict years when civil wars were being fought in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, she oversaw humanitarian aid to more than 2 million refugees.

President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins with Sally O'Neill in Áras An Uachtarain, Dublin on Thursday 26 March 2015. Picture Credit: Maxwell’s Picture Agency.
President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins with Sally O'Neill in Áras An Uachtarain, Dublin on Thursday 26 March 2015. Picture Credit: Maxwell’s Picture Agency.

Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra said the charity is heartbroken by the 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.

“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.

“Our hearts go out to Sally’s family, particularly her children Roger, Rhona and Xio, and her husband, Roger. Although we still cannot believe she is gone, we know that she left an incredible footprint on the world.”

Leading human rights advocate, Sally O’Neill received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) for her tireless work as an overseas development worker.
Leading human rights advocate, Sally O’Neill received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) for her tireless work as an overseas development worker.

In 1982, Sally and President Michael D Higgins, who was then a TD, travelled to El Salvador to investigate reports of a massacre in the viallage of El Mozote. Their report made it on the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.

In 2011, she awarded the Hugh O´Flaherty Humanitarian Award. The following year she was appointed by President Michael D Higgins as a member of the High Level Panel for the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.

In July 2017, she was conferred with an honary Doctor of Law degree by the University of Ulster.

Following her reitrement, Sally continued to work in a voluntary capacity as a facilitator with prisoners and migrants in Hondouras, where she lived, and lectured in Development Studies in the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras in Tegucigalpa.

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