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23rd-Nov-2013 11:58 am - Priest who helped bring peace to Northern Ireland dies – aged 82
Fr Alec Reid ferried messages between republicans and UK and Irish governments, and was witness to arms decommissioning



Fr Alec Reid was threatened with death in 1988 as he tried to stop out of uniform corporals David Howes and Derek Wood being beaten and shot in Belfast. (Photograph: Ballesteros/EPA)

Press Association
The Guardian
22 November 2013

An Irish priest who played a key role in brokering peace in Northern Ireland has died.

Fr Alec Reid, 82, acted as a clandestine go-between ferrying messages to and from republicans and the British and Irish governments in the earliest stages of the peace process in the 1980s.

Years later, with paramilitary ceasefires delivered and the 1998 Good Friday peace accord signed, he acted as an independent witness to the decommissioning of the IRA's arsenal of weapons.

During the Troubles his image was seared into the public conscious when he was pictured kneeling over the bloodied corpse of one of two British soldiers he performed the last rites on after they were beaten and murdered by a republican mob in west Belfast.

The Redemptorist order of Catholic priests, of which the Co Tipperary born cleric was a member, announced that he died peacefully in hospital in Dublin.

The Irish president, Michael Higgins, led tributes to the late cleric, who in his later years made Dublin home. "Fr Reid will perhaps best be remembered for the courageous part he played in identifying and nurturing the early seeds of an inclusive peace process," he said.

"Fr Reid's role as a channel for peace laid the ground for the achievement of the IRA ceasefire and created the political space for the multiparty talks that ultimately led to the Good Friday agreement. While he spent the last few years of his life in Dublin, Fr Reid would have been gratified by the positive transformation that is under way throughout Northern Ireland, and especially in the Belfast that he loved so well."

The cleric had a long association with Clonard church in west Belfast and his funeral will be held there on Wednesday.

"He will be especially remembered for his work in the Northern Ireland peace process," the Redemptorist order said.

Reid was a key confidante of Sinn Féin's president, Gerry Adams, and the republican leader trusted him to ferry messages to and from the then Social Democratic and Labour party leader, John Hume, and contacts in the British and Irish governments.

Adams on Friday described the cleric's former base in Clonard as "the cradle of the peace process".

He said he was tenacious in his efforts to end the conflict. "There would not be a peace process at this time without his diligent doggedness and his refusal to give up," said the Sinn Féin leader.

Adams, who recently visited Reid at his hospital bed, said he and the cleric had many discussions during the Troubles about how the violence might be ended.

"Out of those conversations emerged a commitment to dialogue as the first necessary step along that process and a commencement of a process in the early 1980s to commence a process of dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy, SDLP leader John Hume and the Irish and British governments," he added.

Seven years after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, Reid was again called upon to help the peace process move on. The presence of the cleric and Methodist minister the Rev Harold Good, as the IRA put their weapons beyond use, was vital in convincing those sceptical of republicans' intentions.

The priest once famously recalled that an armed IRA member present for the decommissioning act handed over his assault rifle, which Reid said became the last weapon to be "put beyond use".

"The man handed it over and got quite emotional," said Reid. "He was aware that this was the last gun."

Seventeen years earlier, the cleric witnessed the brutality of IRA violence when he tried desperately to save the lives of the two soldiers who had inadvertently driven into the funeral procession of an IRA member.

He was unable to stop corporals David Howes and Derek Wood being beaten and shot, having been threatened with death if he did not get out of the way.

The killings was one of the most shocking incidents of the entire Troubles.

While the dramatic picture of the cleric knelt beside Howes was beamed around the world, no one would know until years later that beneath his coat that day Reid was carrying an envelope containing one of the numerous top secret messages he ferried between Sinn Féin and Hume.

The churchman's career was not without controversy. In 2005 he prompted outrage in some quarters when he likened the unionist treatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland in the past to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews.
19th-Mar-2005 03:40 pm - The Two Corporals
WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME

**Edited due to website content - I cannot find the original article onsite now

"The Two Corporals were pulled from their car and executed by the IRA"

Belfast March 19th 1988



Corporal Derek Wood, 24 - Royal Corps of Signals


Corporal David Howes, 23 - Royal Corps of Signals

The episode is remembered by many as one of the most shocking fatal incidents of the troubles, largely because of the graphic television coverage which showed dozens of men attacking their car. After being taken from their car and beaten, the corporals were driven to waste ground and shot. The incident, which became known as 'the corporals' killings', was seen as both extraordinarily brutal.

The sequence of events was watched by an army surveillance helicopter on film which was later produced in evidence at a series of trials related to the incident. The film included harrowing footage of the actual deaths of the soldiers as they were shot by I.R.A. gunmen.

The soldiers were pulled from the car as they where blocked from getting out of the area by black taxis. They where pulled out though the windows by republicans, beaten and stripped naked on waste ground before being executed.

Although the army version of events was that the soldiers were technicians who were engaged in routine communications and radio work at bases in West Belfast, local suspicions persist that they were instead involved in some form of undercover surveillance activity.

Neither explanation, however, is seen as clearing up the mystery of how they came to drive into an I.R.A. funeral attended by many hundreds of republican sympathisers. The incident had its origins in the shootings of three I.R.A. members, by the S.A.S. in Gibraltar.

Their funerals in Milltown Cemetery were disrupted by an attack mounted by U.D.A. gunman Michael Stone, who killed three people including I.R.A. member Caoimhin MacBradaigh.

The MacBradaigh funeral was making its way along the Andersonstown Road towards Milltown cemetery when the silver Volkswagen Passat car containing the two corporals appeared. The car headed straight towards the front of the funeral, which was headed by a number of black taxis. It drove past a Sinn Fein steward who signalled it to turn. The car then mounted a pavement, scattering mourners and turning into a small side road. On finding that this road was blocked, it then reversed at speed, ending up within the funeral cortege. When the driver attempted to extricate the car from the cortege his exit route was blocked by a black taxi. At this point most of the mourners and the accompanying republican stewards assumed the car contained loyalist gunmen intent on staging another Michael Stone style attack. Dozens of them rushed forward, kicking the car and attempting to open its doors.

The soldiers inside the car were both armed with Browning automatic pistols and Corporal Wood climbed part of the way out of a window, firing a shot in the air which briefly scattered the crowd. The television pictures showed the crowd surging back, however, some of them attacking the vehicle with a wheel-brace and a stepladder snatched from a photographer. The corporals were eventually pulled from the car and punched and kicked to the ground. They were then dragged into the nearby Casement Park sports ground where they were again beaten, stripped to their underpants and socks and searched. According to republicans, an identification card which read 'Herford', a location in Germany, was mistaken for 'Hereford', the headquarters of the S.A.S... It appears this was important in sealing the fate of the soldiers. With the I.R.A. by now involved the corporals were further beaten and thrown over a high wall to be put into a waiting black taxi. It was driven off at speed, camera crews capturing its driver waving his fist in the air.

The corporals were driven less than 200 yards to waste ground near Penny Lane, just off the main Andersonstown Road.

There they were shot several times. Corporal Wood was shot six times, twice in the head and four times in the chest.

He was also stabbed four times in the back of the neck and had multiple injuries to other parts of his body. Redemptorist priest Father Alec Reid, who was later to play a significant part in the peace process leading to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, arrived on the scene. One of the most enduring pictures of the troubles shows him kneeling beside the almost naked bodies of the soldiers, his face distraught as he administered the last rites. The events of March 19, 1988, lasted only 15 minutes but, because of the nature of the deaths and because much of the sequence was televised within hours, they are regarded among the most shocking in Northern Ireland's recent history.

Later in the day the I.R.A. issued a statement.

It said 'The Belfast Brigade, IRA, claims responsibility for the execution in Andersonstown this afternoon of two SAS members, who launched an attack on the funeral cortege of our comrade volunteer Kevin Brady [Caoimhin MacBradaigh].

The SAS unit was initially apprehended by the people lining the route of the cortege in the belief that armed loyalists were attacking them, and they were removed from the immediate vicinity of the funeral procession by them. At this point our volunteers forcibly removed the two men from the crowd and, after clearly ascertaining their identities from equipment and documentation, we executed them.'

The bodies of the dead soldiers were flown to RAF Northolt by Hercules transport plane. Their families watched as the coffins, draped in Union flags, were carried from the aeroplane by colleagues with the band of the Corps of Signals playing in the background. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was at the airfield.

The soldiers' deaths prompted one RUC officer, Constable Clive Graham, to consider emigrating but he was killed by the IRA just days later.

In November 1998, two Belfast men sentenced for their involvement in the killing of the two soldiers were released from the Maze prison as part of the early prisoner release scheme in the Good Friday Agreement
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