Northern Ireland news

Retired Derry Bishop Seamus Hegarty dies after long illness

Former bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty of Derry. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

THE former Catholic Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty, has died at the age of 79.

He died at Letterkenny University Hospital in Co Donegal, where he was receiving treatment, according to the Catholic Communications Office.

Born in Kilcar in Co Donegal in 1940 was ordained to the priesthood in St Patrick's College, Maynooth in 1966. Following a period as a curate in Stranorlar, he was made Bishop of Raphoe in 1982 and later consecrated as Bishop of Derry in 1994.

Dr Hegarty led the diocese of Derry until 2011, when he retired due to an "irreversible and progressive" illness.

During his tenure, Bishop Hegarty caused controversy on a number of occasions for his response to the issue of clerical child abuse.

In 2005, he apologised to Derry parishioners for not telling them that some of their donations were going towards a central church fund to support victims of clerical sex abuse.

While much of his ministry was overshadowed by his handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal, Bishop Hegarty also played a significant role in the peace process.

Derry businessman Noel Gallagher said the retired church leader made his home and his offices available at sensitive stages of the process. Mr Gallagher was one of three key go-betweens along with Brendan Duddy and Denis Bradley during the peace process.

Mr Gallagher said Bishop Hegarty made all his facilities available as they were needed, including access to “sources at the highest level of the Vatican”.

“He was fully supportive of Martin McGuinness and the others. He never got the recognition he deserved for his work in the peace process,” Mr Gallagher said.

In February 2000, in an effort to break the weapons decommissioning impasse, Bishop Hegarty offered to accept IRA arms.

Speaking to The Irish News he said he was prepared to act as “guarantor and supervisor” for the safekeeping of a quantity of arms for a period of a year. His offer came as Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble was increasing pressure on the IRA to give up its arms.

However, his offer was rejected by the republican movement. While the offer was described as “well-intended” by former Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, the party said the issue should be left to the head of the body overseeing decommissioning, General John de Chastelain.

In a statement issued last night a spokesperson for the Diocese of Derry said: "With sadness we announce the passing from this world of Seamus Hegarty, Bishop Emeritus of Derry and former Bishop of Raphoe, who died after an illness in Letterkenny University Hospital, Co Donegal. "

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood was among those to pay tribute last night.

In a post on Twitter, Mr Eastwood said: “Sorry to hear that Bishop Hegarty has died. Always enjoyed our conversations. RIP."

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