By Louise Walsh
Tributes have been pouring in on the death of long-serving Meath Sinn Fein councillor and peace talks negotiator Joe Reilly.
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said the party was 'heartbroken' at the death of Cllr Reilly (67) who died this morning after a short battle with a rare form of cancer
Despite his illness - Joe who served on Meath Co. Council for almost 25 years - was determined to fulfill his last public engagement just last Monday, in launching a sponsorship deal with the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan.
A key player in Sinn Fein and close to the party leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, he was a member of the party ard comhairle and was part of the Sinn Fein negotiating team during talks on the formation of the Good Friday agreement.
During this time he visited No. 10 Downing Street a number of times and recently joked that after a meeting in Northern Ireland, the late Mo Mowlam told him he was wearing the 'sexiest socks' in the room.
RIP Navan @sinnfeinireland Councillor Joe Reilly: 100% republican activist, friend and comrade, proud Meath man and gentleman to the core, IRA Volunteer and widely-respected Mayor of Navan who stepped up to the plate. A bold Fenian man to the end. @FeinMeath @MaryLouMcDonald pic.twitter.com/IFMNrjbfP5— John Hedges (@JohnHedges109) June 1, 2018
He was invited onto the podium at last December's Ard Fheis by Gerry Adams during his 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 ten years after a failed escape attempt during a court appearance.
He was elected onto Meath Co. 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 Fein councillors from just one (himself) to eight at the last local elections.
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."
So sad to hear of the passing of Joe Reilly A gentle man, a gentleman and a proud Irish Republican Sincere condolences to his family, friends and comrades
Ar dheis Dé do raibh a anam pic.twitter.com/hF6zEW792O— Louise O'Reilly TD (@loreillysf) June 1, 2018
In a statement, Mary Lou 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 Reilly was a member of the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle and played a pivotal role in building the party.
"He was a key member of the Sinn Fein negotiation team which brokered the Good Friday Agreement."
Long-time friend and Sinn Fein Louth TD Gerry Adams has expressed his 'deep sense of loss' at Joe's passing.
"I have known Joe for many years. He was a good friend and a long-standing party member," he said in a statement.
"Joe was a part of the Sinn Fein 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 Fein TD Peadar Toibin added: "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 Reilly's anymore."
Local Sinn Fein Cllr 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."