Northern Ireland

Brendan McAllister, former victims commissioner, later deacon, dies suddenly

Brendan McAllister died suddenly yesterday
Brendan McAllister died suddenly yesterday

Brendan McAllister, one of the north’s most respected civil society figures, has died suddenly.

A long time mediation expert, ordained earlier this year as a Catholic Church deacon, Mr McAllister was remembered as a man of insight, wisdom and sensitivity.

The Newry man, who was attached to Kilbroney Parish in Rostrevor following his January ordination, died yesterday morning.

While some medical issues had surfaced in recent weeks following medical examinations after a fall from his electric bike, the sudden death from natural causes of the 66-year-old came as a shock to family and friends.

“I am absolutely devastated,” said fellow deacon and close friend, barrister Brett Lockhart. “I cannot believe it.”

A trained social worker, he spent his early working as a probation officer, including two years attached to Maghaberry Prison. Mr McAllister then had a long career as a mediation expert both at home and internationally.

In 1992, he was appointed director of Mediation Northern Ireland and spent the next 16 years working on many complex and difficult cases, many related to the conflict.

He served for four years as Commissioner for Victims and Survivors from 2008 to 2012 before spending time carrying out work for international bodies, including the European Union and the United Nations.

In 2019, he was appointed as interim advocate for victims of sexual abuse, a position he held until October 2020.

His appointment caused some controversy as it coincided with his training to become a deacon and the term also included an unintentional data breach of the names of hundreds of victims of abuse.

Commentator Tom Kelly described his friend of many years as “probably the most reflective, sensitive and considered person I have ever met in my life”.

“Everything he did was 100%. He was fantastic at mediation. His life was all about service.”

Mr Lockhart, following his own ordination as a deacon in 2018, was among the first since the Catholic Church re-introduced the post under Vatican 2, acted as a mentor as his friend was training.

“I am distraught to hear of the sudden passing of my friend and colleague Brendan,” said Mr Lockhart.

"He was a tremendous addition to the diaconate and brought the wisdom and insight of his former professional life into his ministry as a deacon.

“He had so much to offer the people of Dromore Diocese and his loss will be felt keenly by those who knew him and were enriched by his friendship.”

Mr McAllister, a Queen’s University graduate and Abbey CBS pupil, said at the time of his ordination he had a calling to the priesthood in his teenage years. But he met Elizabeth McGrath and his life path changed.

"But a sense of calling never left as not easy to take the first steps; I was embarrassed and awkward, but this latest calling was steady and strong and I had to respond if I was to stay true to myself," he said.

Friend and mentor Brett Lockhart
Friend and mentor Brett Lockhart