Veteran Republican Joe O’Neill, 76, Bundoran, a leading figures in the republican movement in Ireland over the past 50 years, died late last night (Wednesday) in hospital.
For almost 50 years he was one of the main republican figures in the north west if not the entire country and was an honorary life vice-president of Republican Sinn Féin at the time of his death.
He died circa 11pm in Sligo Regional Hospital.
He is predeceased by his wife Mary, who died in April 2012. He is survived by his brother Eoin Roe, sisters Cait and Ann and a large circle of relatives most of them based in Donegal or Tyrone.
In 1970 O’Neill was part of a famous walk out from a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis at the Mansion House and his views remained consistent. He was vehemently opposed to the decision in 1986 by Sinn Féin to take seats in the Dáil, thereby recognising partition as he saw it and his philosophy essentially remained “Brits Out” throughout his political life.
In 1986 Joe O’Neill was one of the former Sinn Féin members involved in the famous walk-out that saw the historic split in that party and the setting up of Republican Sinn Féin. The walk-out was taken in response to Sinn Féin’s decision at its 1986 Ard Fheis to end its policy of abstentionism and to allow elected Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála take their seats in Dáil Éireann. There is disagreement on the number of people who walked out, but Joe O’Neill was considered one of the main people involved in that decision and walk-out along with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill.
O’Neill was a former treasurer of Republican Sinn Féin and remained, until his death yesterday, a senior figure in Republican Sinn Féin for the last 27 years.
In June of this year O’Neill spoke in Roscommon at the graveside of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh the first President of Republican Sinn Féin. (Ó Brádaigh, had been President of Sinn Féin from 1970 to 1983).
In local politics Joe O’Neill was a member of the then Bundoran Urban District Council, losing his seat in the 1999 local elections.
In the early 1970’s his arrest by gardaí prompted protest marches in Ballyshannon and a serious riot ensued with the garda station, then located at College Street, Ballyshannon attacked.
O’Neill was a keen gaelic footballer in his youth and won five Donegal senior championships with St. Joseph’s, a Ballyshannon/Bundoran amalgam. He was also a noted ballad singer, playing with the locally renowned Fenian Four group.
His nephew, Cllr Barry O’Neill, a Donegal Fine Gael county councillor, told the Donegal Democrat that his family would “miss him dearly”.
“Joe was a great person, a fantastic uncle and a great family person. Joe had strong Republican values, beliefs and represented people in public life and indeed outside of public life.
“Joe was a distinguished club footballer with St. Joseph’s, also represented Donegal in football at minor level in the 1950’s. He was a great supporter of Donegal football and indeed Tyrone football, as our family have strong links with Tyrone. We will miss Joe dearly,” Cllr O’Neill stated.
Funeral arrangements are as yet not confirmed, but it is anticipated that his funeral will take place this Saturday.
* Copyright Donegal Democrat Newspapers.