Tributes have been paid to “the heartbeat” of Trócaire, Sally O’Neill Sanchez, who was killed in a car crash in Guatemala.
The Tyrone woman joined Trócaire in 1978 and dedicated her life to working with the poor, the marginalised, and victims of human rights abuses. She retired from Trócaire in April 2015 after 37 years of service.
Ms O’Neill Sanchez worked primarily on Trócaire projects in Latin America, but she was also involved in providing famine relief in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s. She established Trócaire’s programme in Somalia in the early 1990s in response to a famine there.
Prior to her retirement, she was Trócaire’s head of region for Latin America, based in Honduras.
In recognition of her career, Ms O’Neill Sanchez was awarded the Hugh O’Flaherty Humanitarian Award in 2011. She was also appointed by President Higgins as a member of the high level panel for the Presidential Distinguished Award for the Irish Abroad in 2012.
Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra expressed “profound shock and devastation” at the news.
“We are heartbroken by this news,” she said.
“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,” she said.
Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney described Ms O’Neill Sanchez as a “remarkable woman who made a tremendous contribution to Irish society and to disadvantaged communities across the world”.
“She presented the best of what it is to be Irish, working tirelessly to empower those impacted by poverty and injustice,” he said.