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Statement by President Michael D. Higgins on the death of Sally O’Neill Sanchez

Date: Mon 8th Apr, 2019 | 15:42

"News of the death of my friend Sally O’Neill Sanchez and three of her co-workers has greatly saddened me, as it will have all those who knew Sally’s remarkable work for human rights and a global response to poverty.

Joining Trócaire in 1978, she distinguished herself for four decades through her commitment and unstinting belief in the dignity and inherent equality of all human beings. Her work placed her at the front line during some of the most significant global humanitarian crises.

To have known Sally O’Neill Sanchez was a privilege. To have been with her in some of the places of conflict, distress and human suffering was to see the brilliance, compassion, and limitless courage she brought to her engagement with the poor, the oppressed, and the displaced.

Her early work in Central America was ground-breaking. Having translated for Oscar Romero just six weeks before his murder she would go on to engage with all those suffering in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

I was with her in El Salvador in 1982 when the news of the massacre of the citizens of El Mozote was breaking. Many years later when I visited Central America as President of Ireland in October 2013 she was present to hear the massacre, long denied, recognised as genocide. She was pleased to see the names of the dead remembered, and to meet the relatives of those killed.

Her work during the famine in Somalia I witnessed at first hand. She established Trócaire’s programme in Gédo. A decade earlier she had worked on the famine in Ethiopia.  

Sally understood the importance of combining tangible assistance and practical compassion with the pursuit of long-term solutions to the root causes of poverty, marginalisation and oppression. Through her work she empowered countless people and she was relentless in calling on those with power to bring their influence to bear on the policies and politics that affected those most vulnerable.

With the same professionalism, ease and conviction as Sally O’Neill Sanchez led delegations of politicians and bishops to witness the suffering of marginalised communities throughout Central America, she was able to bring those previously without a voice to the corridors of power at international conferences.

I was privileged to have her as a friend and will never forget the brilliant guidance and assistance she provided on so many occasions and in so many places.

I thank her for her work, in most recent years, as a member of the High-Level Panel for the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.

She will be missed by so many, but most acutely by her family, her wide circle of friends and her former colleagues in Trócaire.

Sabina and I send our deepest condolences to the families of the four victims, and in particular to Sally’s husband Roger and their children, Roger, Rhona and Xiao, and to all those who knew her."