Fr Alec Reid – Peacemaker

May 25th, 2013

During the worst of the Troubles, one priest became an instrument of peace.

 

In a photograph that made its way around the world in March of that year, Fr Reid is captured at the moment of giving the last rites to one of two soldiers (Corporals Derek Wood and David Howes) who were beaten and then shot to death when they stumbled into the midst of a funeral for victims of a bomb attack on an earlier ceremony for one of the dead of the failed Gibraltar bombings.

Not captured by the graphic picture, however, are the moments immediately before, when Fr Reid gave mouth-to-mouth to one soldiers and then placed himself over the injured pair in a vain attempt to dissuade an IRA gunman from delivering the fatal shots. Physically removed under threat by others, Fr Reid was able to return only after the soldiers had been killed and the gunmen departed, becoming in a moment a snapshot of a moist bloody conflict.

Escaping too the ability of any camera to record were Fr Reid’s efforts throughout the period immediately after the March 6 shootings by the SAS of three IRA members on the Rock of Gibraltar to calm tensions which so fatally surfaced in the Milltown cemetery grenade attack of March 16 and the soldiers’ killings.

These efforts made up the content of the recent BBC documentary 14 Days, which noted, significantly, that blood from one of the dying soldiers splashed an envelope carried by the Redemptorist priest, an envelope containing a message from republicans to the SDLP’s John Hume in an ongoing exchange towards and IRA ceasefire and dialogue. Fr Reid, it transpired, was instrumental in cultivating the contacts and subsequently served as a go-between in the search for common ground.

From those early contacts, Fr Reid went on to be the chosen liaison with Irish governments towards the IRA’s subsequent ceasefire and to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It would later be Fr Reid who, together with Methodist Minister Harold Goode, announced the IRA’s decommissioning of arms, in 2005.

The drive for peace which so marked Fr Reid’s ministry from his base at the Redemptorist Monastery in Clonard, Belfast, led him to work towards a similar outcome in Spain’s Basque region. Engaging with the separatist group ETA from 2003, Fr Reid worked to realise that group’s ceasefire in 2006, a move acknowledged as inspired by the Northern Ireland peace process.

Today, while still troubled by what he sees as a failure to save Woods and Howes in 1988, Fr Reid has been praised for his saving of numerous other lives by his work for peace in Northern Ireland. Having previously described Fr Reid as “the midwife of the peace process” Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams most recently stated: “There’s no doubt whatsoever that he saved lives.”