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Saturday 21 October 2017

Fr Donal O'Mahony

The founder of Threshold was a tireless voice for the homeless and a renowned global advocate for peace and justice

FR Donal O'Mahony, founder of Threshold, who died last Saturday week at the Marymount Hospice in Cork at the age of 74 was a member of the Capuchin order, a housing activist and peace campaigner and mediator in a number of high-profile kidnapping cases.

He founded the organisation dedicated to housing the homeless after being appointed chaplain to Dublin's flat-dwellers by the Archbishop of Dublin. He established Threshold as a peace and justice project, focusing specifically on housing and homelessness.

"People may have an address and a door key, but if they lack privacy, if the accommodation lacks basic facilities, if rents are too high in relation to income and raised too often, if unsanitary conditions or overcrowding prevail, if a threat of eviction is the response to pursuing one's rights... then it is only right to call such persons 'homeless'."

Born in Blackrock, Cork, he started his working life as a sports reporter with the Irish Independent. But after three years, in 1958 he found his true vocation and joined the Capuchin order. He was ordained a priest in 1966 and went on to live a fruitful and active life working for peace and justice in Ireland and throughout the world.

In recent years, Fr O'Mahony was international director of the Damietta Peace Initiative in South Africa, a project he founded to promote peace and a non-violent culture throughout the continent.

Over the course of his career, he served as a mediator in a number of high-profile international kidnapping cases, including that of Tiede Herrema, the Dutch-born industrialist who was kidnapped by an IRA splinter group led by Eddie Gallagher and Rose Dugdale in 1975. The case led to a long-running siege in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, which lasted for 35 days. It was eventually ended with the help of Fr O'Mahony and the safe release of Dr Herrema, who ran the Ferrenka company in Limerick.

Donal O'Mahony also worked in Northern Ireland during the Eighties, engaging with paramilitaries on both sides to promote and facilitate dialogue as an alternative to violence. In 2008, his contribution to peacemaking was marked with a Peace Award from the Interfaith Foundation of South Africa.

In 1978, he founded Threshold to provide services essential to the homeless and to promote innovative justice-based housing initiatives.

In later life, he was a member of an international team of three, who successfully negotiated the release of 106 Nicaraguan prisoners (all university students) imprisoned by the government in Honduras; and he later successfully mediated, with others, the release of an English-Jewish mother and daughter kidnapped in Italy for ransom money.

He also entered into dialogue with the Muslim leader in Beirut concerning the protection of Christian schools in Lebanon.

Fr O'Mahony was a visiting scholar in Berkeley University, California, where he gave a series of public lectures on the theory and practice of non-violence. In 2004, he founded the Capuchin Franciscan Peace Centre in Pretoria, South Africa. It was from this centre that emerged the major non-violence project for the continent of Africa: The Damietta Initiative.

Fr O'Mahony's love of sailing was recalled at his funeral in Holy Trinity Church in Cork, where he was buried last Wednesday.

Sunday Independent

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