Charity worker Sally O’Neill dies in Guatemala road crash
A charity worker who was the “heartbeat” of overseas aid organisation Trocaire for decades has died in a road accident in Guatemala, her former employer said.
Sally O’Neill from Co Tyrone translated for campaigning archbishop Oscar Romero shortly before his murder and highlighted a massacre in El Salvador.
She was a driving force for human rights at the Catholic bishops’ international development agency for almost 40 years.
CEO Caoimhe de Barra said: “We are heartbroken by this news.
“Sally was the heartbeat of Trocaire for almost 40 years.”
Ms de Barra said her former colleague from Dungannon was a remarkable person.
“Trocaire was only five years old when Sally joined.
“Sally built the foundations of the organisation.
“She embodied our values and through her courage and commitment to human rights touched the lives of so many people.”
She died following a crash in the Central American country.
She was married to husband Roger and leaves children Roger, Rhona and Xio.
Ms de Barra said: “She dedicated her life to improving the lives of others. Her legacy will live on through the thousands of people whose lives she helped to improve.”
She joined Trocaire in 1978 and dedicated her life to working with the poor, the marginalised and victims of human rights abuses.
Retirement came in April 2015 after 37 years of service.
She worked in Central America at a time when civil wars were being fought in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
She oversaw humanitarian aid to more than two million refugees in the region during those conflict years.
In 1982, the aid worker and President Michael D Higgins, who was then a deputy in the Dail, visited El Salvador to investigate reports of a massacre in the village of El Mozote.
Their report from El Mozote reached the pages of the international media, including the New York Times and Washington Post, Trocaire said.
President Higgins said: “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.”