Gerry Adams has expressed his deep personal sadness and acute sense of loss at the death of Fr. Des Wilson – The Peoples Priest
Gerry Adams said:
“The community of west Belfast, but especially of the Upper Springfield, will be devastated at the news of the death of our friend and mentor Fr. Des Wilson.
“Fr. Des has been an integral part of the west Belfast community for almost 60 years. He was hugely respected and loved as a priest, a community activist, an educator, a defender of people’s rights, an author, dramatist and writer. A fear naofa. He was also a man of great courage, a good neighbour, and a decent human being.
“Fr. Des’ life was dedicated to helping people. During the terrible years of conflict, he stood with the Upper Springfield Road community against the aggression and violence of the British state forces. He gave comfort and solidarity to those in need.
“Along with Frank Cahill and others he established local projects to bring jobs to west Belfast through the Whiterock Industrial Estate, the Rock Knitwear Group and later the Conway Mill project. For him education was always a priority and he was appalled at the numbers of children and young people who for a variety of reasons were dropping out of school and who needed help and support.
“On a personal note in 1971, after internment, Fr. Des married Colette and me while I was on the run.
“Fr. Des and Fr. Alex Reid later established a mediation process between the different republican organisations which undoubtedly saved lives following feuding in the late 1970s.
“The two priests also embarked on an outreach programme. They spoke to unionist paramilitaries and facilitated meetings between republicans and loyalists. They met officials from the British and Irish governments, and indeed anyone who would listen to them, in the hope that through dialogue they could assist the work of peace building. They pioneered this work. They never gave up despite setbacks and serial refusals to talk by the great and the good. Without Fr Des and Fr Alex there would be no peace process.
“Despite his recent illness and age Fr. Des remained very conversant with the political and peace process. I visited him a few weeks ago and despite his poor health he was keen to learn of the most recent twists of the Brexit saga, efforts to get a power sharing government in place, and events in Leinster House.
“Fr. Des was a champion of the people and a visionary. We will miss him greatly. Especially in Springhill and Ballymurphy. To his family and wide circle of friends I want to extend my condolences. Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam dílis.”