Sinn Fein councillor Tony Hassan has paid tribute to his late friend Neil McLaughlin who passed away last month.
At the graveside oration to the Derry Republican Neil McLaughlin Mr. Hassan said that Neil was a great inspiration to young republicans in Derry City and in particular to the people of Shantallow.
Speaking in tribute to his friend he said: “Neil, passed away last month at just 65 years of age, he will always be remembered as someone who led from the front and for the hard work and dedication he gave to the republican cause.
“It was fitting that hundreds of people from all over Derry and beyond gathered in the city cemetery on St Stephen’s Day to bid him farewell.
“He was very much seen as an ‘old hand’ back in the early 1970s and he was the man that the people of Shantallow went to for advice and guidance. And he was one of the founding members of the Sinn Féin Cumann in the Shantallow area and for years was the party’s organiser.
“Like many other republicans in the early 1970s, Neil was at the forefront of protests and opposition to Internment and British rule in Ireland and when other work needed to be done Neil was never found wanting. He toured Ireland bringing the political message of Sinn Féin. His house in Shantallow was always open to Republicans no matter what their problems were and his work for the political prisoners and their families was always at the top of his list and ensured that those on the run had a bed for the night.
Outside of politics Neil was also a sporting legend and represented Ireland in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich and just missed out on a silver medal. He won a bronze medal at the 1971 European championships in Madrid. After turning profession he went on to have many good fights under his belt.
“Neil never shied away from his responsibilities and ensured that the republican struggle continued at a time when many might have faltered. He took a leading role in protests during the Hunger Strikes and was director of elections when Martin McGuinness won a seat in the Assembly elections of 1982. He supported the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, and worked for Sinn Féin right up until he fell into bad health.
“As we laid Neil to rest I could not but think that on many occasions he could be seen at the graves of soldiers of Óglaigh na hÉireann, tending the graves and ensuring they had the respect they deserved. Neil never forgot his fallen comrades. In fact, he believed that their sacrifice should be a catalyst to spur us on in the pursuit of Irish unity.
“Neil’s death was a sad occasion for his family and friends and for everyone who knew him will sorely miss him. We will never forget the role he played in our struggle. He was in life an inspiration to those around him and in death people will look back on a man, who was an example to us all, he was a boxing legend but he was also a Republican legend.
“I offer my deepest sympathy to Margo, his sons Neil, Liam, Michael, Mark, Colum and daughters Fiona and Isabelle.”