MacBride Award Chairman/AOH National Vice President Brendan Moore and MacBride Award Representative/LAOH National Vice President Maureen Shelton announced that Clara Reilly, Northern Ireland human rights crusader, has been selected as the 2011 MacBride Award recipient based on balloting conducted among National Board members and State Presidents of both the AOH and LAOH.
The purpose of the prestigious Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award is specifically stated in the AOH National Constitution: To memorialize the human rights contributions made by Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Sean MacBride and to recognize the efforts of others who make similar contributions in the cause of peace, justice, and the economic well-being of the Irish people. Moore stated that “nominees for the MacBride Award are outstanding individuals derived from within and outside of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. Actual voting takes place only after those eligible to vote have had ample time to study and reflect on the biographies of all those who have been nominated.”
Despite raising six small children when internment in Northern Ireland was introduced, having all male members of her family interned, and subsequently losing two brothers and a cousin in the conflict, Clara Reilly’s name became synonymous with justice in Ireland. The 1970’s saw her documenting arrests of Nationalists, taking prisoner statements, and ensuring legal representation for those detained by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. While frantic relatives sought news of family members, she telephoned across Belfast and across the Six Counties on a daily basis seeking the whereabouts of those removed from their homes and as well as those arrested on the streets.
Reilly gradually emerged as a frontline advocate for her besieged community. She negotiated with senior Royal Ulster Constabulary and British army officers on behalf of those being victimized. She later lobbied the Irish government to initiate action against the British in the European Court on Human Rights, where Britain was eventually found guilty of both torture and inhumane treatment. Working with human rights attorney Pat Finucane, successful litigation forced the British army to end its random arrests for “screening “purposes. Reilly went on to found the Campaign Against Plastic Bullets and became the Founder and Co-Director of Relatives For Justice, a support group for families of those injured or killed in the conflict.
Recently asked if she now has any regrets about committing thirty-five years of her life to the tremendously difficult campaign to promote justice and equality in Northern Ireland, Clara Reilly unhesitatingly responded: “I have never regretted one day of my work for human rights, despite the highs and lows of that struggle.” Moore concluded: “Clara is assuredly a most worthy recipient of our Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award, which will be presented to her in conjunction with the AOH National President’s Testimonial Dinner in Philadelphia on October 8, 2011.”