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Yesterday, the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, marked the retirement of leading human rights advocate and Trócaire worker, Sally O’Neill, with a lunch in Áras An Uachtarain.
The event honoured her contribution to overseas development and human rights over almost four decades.
From Dungannon, County Tyrone, Sally has been at the heart of Trócaire’s overseas work for 37 years. She will formally step down in early April. She is currently working as Trócaire’s Head of Region for Latin America, and is based in Honduras.
Throughout her career, Sally has worked on the frontline during some of the most significant global humanitarian crises.
Within weeks of joining Trócaire in 1978, three bitter civil wars broke out in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Sally led delegations of politicians and bishops to Central America, so they could see the suffering, translating for Archbishop Oscar Romero six weeks before he was murdered.
She oversaw humanitarian aid to more than two million refugees in the Central American region in the following years.
In 1982, Sally and Michael D Higgins, (who was then a TD) visited El Salvador to investigate reports of a massacre in the village of El Mozote. They were initially refused entry into the country but were eventually granted access. They uncovered evidence of a massacre of civilians and their report from El Mozote made its way onto the pages of the international media, including the New York Times and Washington Post.
Sally also worked in Ethiopia during the famine in the mid-eighties and played a central role in Trócaire’s response to the famine in Somalia in the early 1990s, establishing its programme in Gedo, which still operates today.
In her current post, she oversees Trócaire’s work in Central America across Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Sally was appointed by the President of Ireland as a member of the High Level Panel for the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad in 2012 and awarded the Hugh O´Flaherty Humanitarian Award in 2011.
After her retirement Sally will continue in her role on the High Level Panel for the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad in addition to working in a voluntary capacity as a facilitator with prisoners in Honduras who have been wrongfully convicted, and migrants in transit.
Éamonn Meehan, Trócaire’s executive director said of Sally:
“Sally O’Neill has had a truly remarkable career in overseas development and human rights. Through her belief in the dignity of all people, she has empowered so many to overcome the worst cases of poverty and injustice.
Through her vision and commitment, Sally built the foundations of Trócaire, so that it could become the organisation it is today. I am convinced that this vision will continue to inspire the organisation into the future.”