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Trócaire expresses regret at the death of Bishop Eamonn Casey

13 March 2017

Trócaire has expressed regret at the death of Bishop Eamonn Casey, who was the Chairman of Trócaire for almost 20 years from 1973 to 1992.

eamonn casey

Bishop Casey speaking out against apartheid in South Africa

Bishop Casey was appointed Chairman of Trócaire following the organisation’s establishment in 1973. Working closely with the late Brian McKeown, Trócaire’s first Director, Bishop Casey shone a spotlight on situations of injustice overseas. He worked assiduously on behalf of marginalised communities, particularly in El Salvador, South Africa, Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi and the Philippines. 

Trócaire Chairman Bishop William Crean said his work with the organisation in the 1970s and 1980s had benefited millions of people around the world:

“Bishop Casey spoke out courageously in defence of persecuted communities overseas and was willing to place himself in danger in order to do so. His campaigning, both at home and overseas, raised awareness of grave injustices and helped to bring about positive change.”

Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire, said that Bishop Casey would be remembered with gratitude in communities across the developing world:

“For two decades Bishop Casey was the driving force behind Trócaire. Bishop Casey and Brian McKeown, the first Director, formed a dynamic partnership. Together, they stood courageously with the world’s poor and championed their cause when others would not do so.”

Trócaire was heavily involved in the fight for human rights in El Salvador in the 1970s, and Bishop Casey played a leading role in highlighting the killing of civilians, human rights activists and church leaders in the country. Trócaire was supporting the El Salvador Human Rights Commission, which had been set up by Archbishop Oscar Romero, and other human rights organisations in response to the unlawful killing of 8,000 people. 

When Archbishop Romero was murdered while saying Mass in 1980, Bishop Casey attended his funeral. The funeral was attacked by death squads and Bishop Casey narrowly avoided injury. He spent two hours ministering to the wounded. He was reported to have been the only Bishop to have remained at the Cathedral, with other visiting Bishops brought away for their own safety.

As an outspoken critic of apartheid, Bishop Casey called on the Irish Rugby Football Union to cancel a proposed tour of South Africa in 1981. He spearheaded Trócaire’s calls for the Government of Ireland to introduce trade sanctions against South Africa.

In February 1984, Bishop Casey went to visit the late Fr. Niall O’Brien in jail in the Philippines where he, along with two other priests and six lay workers, had been wrongly accused of murder. Bishop Casey described conditions in Bacolod Jail, where Fr. O’Brien was being held, as “sub-human” and called on the Irish government to condemn publicly the Philippines government, not just for the wrongful imprisonment of Fr. O’Brien but for the many cases of injustice in the country. In earlier years, he had also been instrumental in persuading the ESB to withdraw from its consultancy contract with the Philippine National Power Cooperation. In interviews he gave at the time, Bishop Casey said ESB involvement in the Philippines raised serious questions about human rights abuses and Ireland’s role in the developing world.

Bishop Casey

Bishop Casey on the steps of the Cathedral in San Salvador after 50 people were massacred at the funeral of Archbishop Romero.

Additional notes: 

1.       Before his appointment as Bishop of Kerry in 1969, Bishop Casey had spent ten years ministering to the Irish in Britain. This experience, he always said, was a defining moment for him. He set up the Shelter organisation to help Irish emigrants and others to acquire housing. He also saw how migrant workers found themselves socially excluded and quickly came to the realisation that in order to create change he had to engage in political processes and to hold people to account. 

2.       Fr. Niall O’Brien was arrested in the Philippines on false murder charges in May 1983. Trócaire had supported Fr. O’Brien’s work in the Philippines and campaigned for his release. Bishop Casey visited Fr. O’Brien in prison and also visited the United States where he made representations to the US Catholic hierarchy. As a result of this, the US Bishops subsequently urged the Reagan administration to put pressure on the Philippines government to release Fr. O’Brien. In July 1984 the charges against Fr. O’Brien and his eight co-accused were dropped. 

3.       Bishop Casey visited Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador in 1979 and was hugely affected by what he saw in the country. Following the Archbishop’s murder in 1980, Bishop Casey attended the funeral, which was attacked by right-wing death squads. The Irish News (8 April 1980) reported eyewitnesses saying that Bishop Casey stood at the door of the cathedral “while bullets were flying and guided people inside, trying to calm them and bring them to safety”. Bishop Casey was hugely critical of US government aid to the military of El Salvador and in 1984 boycotted a reception for President Reagan held in Galway in protest at American support for widespread human rights violations in the country. 

4.       South Africa was a priority country for Trócaire in the 1970s and 1980s at the height of the apartheid regime. The organisation began funding trade unions and other groups in South Africa in 1975. Bishop Casey was heavily involved in the organisation’s calls for the Government of Ireland to introduce trade sanctions against South Africa. In late March 1986 the Irish government announced a ban on imports of fruit and vegetables from South Africa.