Tragic Loss
Untimely death of talented and committed champion of West Belfast community

Community mourns the passing of ‘tireless worker’

Belfast is in mourning today for esteemed community leader Eileen Howell who passed away on Saturday. Respected and admired for her work with the Falls Community Council, West Belfast Partnership and the EC-backed Belfast Partnership Board, Eileen was also a tireless peace campaigner. Her efforts ensured the famous handshake between Irish President Mary Robinson and Gerry Adams took place in West Belfast in 1992 — despite the fierce opposition of the establishment on both sides of the Border.

Eileen died in the Royal Victoria Hospital after a short illness. She leaves behind her husband Ted and sons Eamonn and Proinnsias.

Eileen was the Director of Falls Community Council for 14 years, one of the largest and most progressive community-based organisations in West Belfast.
Just 54, her death has shocked community and political leaders from across the city who worked with her over the past two decades.

Last night Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams spoke of the “great sense of loss” at the death of Eileen Howell.

“As a community activist and leader, Eileen Howell repeatedly demonstrated over many years of service, her commitment to the people of West Belfast.

She had a deep-rooted belief in the imperatives of equality and human rights and of economic and social justice and these were her guiding principles.

“During the early ’70s Eileen was a frequent visitor to the Maidstone Prison Ship and Long Kesh where her husband Ted was interned. She was also active in defence of the H-block and Armagh political prisoners, particularly during the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes.

“Later she went back into education and earned a degree in social policy.
“She was a voluntary worker for the Obair campaign, which followed the publication of the Obair report publication on West Belfast in December 1998.

This groundbreaking analysis of the problems and challenges confronting West Belfast, along with the Clár Nua report in 1995, where again she took a leadership role, helped lay the foundations for the recent West Belfast Economic Taskforce initiatives.”

Mr Adams said that as Director of the Falls Community Council and the Chair of the Belfast Local Strategic Partnership she organised, planned and campaigned for investment, jobs and a better quality of life for the citizens of this area.

“Eileen was a fearless champion of West Belfast in its countless discussions and negotiations with the British government. She frequently lobbied the Irish and US governments as well as representatives of the EU.

“She was a visionary who was determined and sincere in her desire to build a new society. In her address at the opening of the Clar Nua conference Eileen said: ‘The time has come to end those processes through which others decided what was best for us. Gone are the days of mediation between policy decision makers and the West Belfast community. This community demands a process which listens to us, which involves us, a process in which decisions are made with us, not for us’.”

And on a personal note the West Belfast MP said: “I knew Eileen for over 30 years. She was a good friend and a wonderful dancer. She was a wife and mother and just before she died a grandmother also.

“To Ted and Proinnsias, Karen and baby Micéal and to Eamonn I want to extend solidarity and condolences on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of West Belfast our deepest sympathy and condolences.

“Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar anam dílis.”

Mr Adams’ sentiments have been echoed by many people who worked with and knew Eileen.

“Eileen’s death is a tragic blow to all of us who have had the honour and privilege of working with her during some of the most historic phases of community development in West Belfast,” Falls Community Council spokesman Gerry McConville said. “I would like to offer our heartfelt and deepest sympathy to her family and extended family circle.

“This loss is even more accentuated by the fact that during her illness Eileen became a grandmother for the first time. Her family have lost a loving wife, mother and friend while we and the people of West Belfast in particular have lost a major community leader, champion of the peace process and advocate for the achievement of social, economic and political justice.”

Chief Executive of the West Belfast Partnership Board Geraldine McAteer said she was devastated by the news. For two years Eileen was the Chairman of the Board, from 2002-03 and prior to that she had been a board member for five years.

“Her loss to this community is immeasurable,” Geraldine McAteer said.
“We have been good friends and colleagues over the years and I know that she was absolutely fearless. She was a woman whose whole life was given over towards championing the cause of the people of West Belfast. Whether it was here, on the Shankill or in the offices of politicians or in the White House, she argued the case that money and investment was desperately needed in West Belfast.

“Her death is a terrible loss and I know that a person who has that level of commitment, with all that experience and know-how, is hard to find these days. Champions don’t come around very often.”

Geraldine’s colleague, Gerry Carson, who is the current chairman of the West Belfast Partnership Board said that Eileen was one of the most talented and committed champions of community activity ever to take up the cause of regeneration and the empowerment of local people.

“The untimely death of Eileen has taken from her family and the people of West Belfast, one of the most talented and committed champions of community activity ever to take up the cause of regeneration and the empowerment of local people,” he said.

“A tireless figure in the pursuit of economic regeneration and determined to improve the health, education and social well-being of the community to which she was totally dedicated, her strong character and moral convictions earned her great respect in all the many varied aspects of her life.”

And last night Sammy Douglas from the East Belfast Partnership Board described Eileen as “a strong willed woman of great dedication and commitment – a passionate advocate and champion for those in our society who are marginalised and excluded”.

“Very often at BLSP board meetings she would remind us of the need to take seriously our responsibility for social inclusion,” said Sammy. “Her family will be comforted in hearing how many lives she touched for the better - our thoughts and prayers are with them at this sad time.”

And paying their own tribute to Eileen, Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice said community development in West Belfast has been synonymous with the name of Eileen Howell.

“She brought leadership, courage, determination and vision to a community vilified and marginalised.

“She provided example to others in how to stand against censorship, discrimination and inequality whilst always maintaining principle, integrity and honesty. Her emphasis was always on how to impact on the real lives of real people who suffered because of economic and political discrimination. Eileen never lost sight of this and that made her special.

“Throughout her life she made an enormous contribution to the political, economic and social development of our community. Her hard, diligent work and inspiration will not be lost. For those of us lucky enough to have worked alongside her these indelible features of Eileen’s characteristic approach will live on.”

Michael Doherty of the Lenadoon Community Forum said they too were deeply shocked by Eileen’s death. “On behalf of the Forum we would like to express our condolences to Ted and the entire Howell family,” he said.

“Eileen was at the forefront of many human rights campaigns and has campaigned tirelessly for justice and equality in this community. Her untimely death is a tragic loss to this community.”

Eileen’s remains will leave the family home at 9.15am on Tuesday June 15 for 10am Mass in St Michael the Archangel Church on Finaghy Road North. She will be buried afterwards at Milltown Cemetery.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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