Fr Reid, chaplain of the peace process

It took years of hard and often fractious negotiations before the gun was finally taken out of politics in the North.

The main contributors to that process — Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin, Ian Paisley and the DUP, as well as SDLP leader John Hume and political leaders in Dublin and London — have never been shy about their role in the peace process.

But the real credit must go to those who worked behind the scenes. They remain the unsung heroes of peace, those who spent years enticing, cajoling, and finally persuading the paramilitaries on both sides that the ballot box was better than the bomb or the bullet.

The public proponents of the peace process succeeded because they were standing on the shoulders of giants such as Fr Alec Reid, who has died at the age of 82 and who will be remembered as the effective chaplain to the peace process — a dove surrounded by hawks.

For those who never experienced it, it is impossible to imagine the horrors of life in the North less than two decades ago, the daily grind of fear and familiarity with death and destruction that ordinary people had to endure.

Right up to the mid-1990s, the North looked to be a hopeless case of endless violence with little political progress being made, but Fr Reid, along with a number of Protestant clerics, refused to give in to despair.

In a triumph of hope over experience, he hosted a series of talks in 1994 which marked the beginning of a process upon which the 1998 Belfast Agreement was built.

Long before that, in the 1980s, he acted as a go-between, ferrying messages to and from republicans and the British and Irish governments in the earliest stages of the peace process.

He was carrying one such message during a particularly horrifying episode at an IRA funeral in west Belfast when two British soldiers were murdered.

He was the first to bring together Gerry Adams and John Hume, two nationalist leaders fiercely opposed to each other, in what became known as the Hume/Adams initiative.

Those talks led to a common nationalist approach which facilitated dialogue with unionists and later led to the 1993 Downing Street Declaration.

It took two more decades of talks before the IRA finally gave up their guns for good. When they eventually decommissioned their weapons in Sept 2005, Fr Reid and Methodist minister Reverend Harold Good witnessed the arms being put beyond use.

He and Rev Good shared the 2008 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award.

In recent years, he became involved in talks with Basque nationalists seeking independence from Spain and worked to broker an end to violence in the region. The ETA paramilitaries announced a ceasefire in Mar 2006 thanks, in part, to his efforts.

The most enduring image of Fr Reid remains the photograph taken of him in 1988 and which immediately seared itself into the public consciousness.

Fr Reid was pictured kneeling over the bloodied corpse of one of two British soldiers who had been beaten after they had inadvertently driven into the funeral procession of an IRA member.

He was unable to stop corporals David Howes and Derek Wood being shot by the IRA and was threatened with death himself if he did not get out of the way.

The envelope containing the message from Sinn Féin to John Hume was splattered with their blood.


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