Dáil Éireann - Volume 440
- 23 March, 1994
Adjournment Debate. -
Death of Irish National in Sierra Leone.
Mrs. Owen: With your permission, Sir, I
wish to share my time with Deputy Sean Ryan.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed?
Mrs. Owen Mrs. Owen
Mrs. Owen: On Saturday, 12 March 1994,
Fr. Felim McAllister, a Holy Ghost Missionary priest from Donabate,
County Dublin, was shot dead in an ambush by rebels dressed in army
uniforms in Panguma, Sierra Leone. His last words as he tried to lead a
convoy of three vehicles from the hospital compound were “I think we are
too late, we are surrounded”. With that he was shot dead. A young Dutch
doctor Dr. Elco Krijn, his wife Karim and their four year old daughter
Zita were in the second vehicle and they were shot. A fourth person in
the second vehicle, Dr. Ann Brennan from New Zealand, managed to escape
but was subsequently recaptured by the rebels and was subjected to the
ordeal of a seven mile walk until she was rescued by the official army
of Sierra Leone. She had to witness the burning of the vehicle and
although local people managed to retrieve the bodies of Fr. Felim
McAllister and Dr. Elco Krijn and his wife, their four year old daughter
was burned in the vehicle. Sister Madeleine Naughton, a Daughter of
Charity sister from Loughrea, County Galway was driving the third
vehicle with three other missionary sisters. She watched in horror as
Fr. Felim McAllister and the others in the second vehicle were shot to
death. She put her foot on the accelerator and drove through a hail of
bullets, thus saving her own life and the lives of the three other
McAllister had been in Sierra Leone for 26 years and he, as well as the
other Irish missionaries contributed enormously to the communities they
were working with, particularly the Kissi and the Mende tribes. In his
last letter home written a week before his untimely death he said
“Tongafield — the wider parish — is destroyed by the rebels with
hundreds of houses burned and every house and store looted. I am busy
trying to feed 12,000 displaced persons from the regions. The rebels
were approaching but turned away three miles from Panguma but our place
is the next obvious target.” Little did he know that the hospital in
which he worked would be the next 
target. His letter continued “There is real danger that the country
could slide into anarchy similar to Somalia. The people do not trust the
army”. He then appealed to Irish people and the people of Donabate who
supported his missionary work to contact the Sierra Leone Government and
ask them to capture the rebels and bring peace to the country.
is experiencing difficult times. It is considered to be one of the ten
poorest countries in Africa, although it used to be one of the richest,
with a major diamond industry. The civil war in Liberia has spilled over
into Sierra Leone and it is known that one in five children will not
reach their fifth birthday. In his last letter home Fr. McAllister
appealed for resources so that people could rehabilitate themselves.
There is European Union and American aid but army protection is required
in transporting food from Freetown. Fr. McAllister's last food convoy
was attacked and the food stolen.
I pay tribute
to the Holy Rosary Sisters who founded the hospital and to the Daughters
of Charity who are continuing this work. I pay special tribute to their
principal, Sr. Bernadette, and to Sr. Madeleine Naughton who has now
arrived home. I extend my deepest sympathy to the family of Fr.
McAllister and to the people of the parish of Donabate-Portrane.
Government of Sierra Leone sent a message of sympathy to the Government?
I ask the Minister to put pressure on them to capture the rebels. I also
ask him to meet with the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Daughters of Charity
and the Holy Rosary Sisters to be appraised fully on the position in
Mr. S. Ryan Mr. S. Ryan
Mr. S. Ryan: I thank Deputy Owen for
affording me the opportunity of making a brief contribution. As someone
who grew up and went to school with Fr. Felim I extend my sympathy to
his family. Not only is this a tragedy for his family and his Order but,
above all, for the ordinary  people of
Sierra Leone who in recent times had come to depend so much on him and
other missionaries, both nuns and priests, particularly from Ireland.
People in my
own parish have appealed to the Government to ensure that the work
carried out by Fr. Felim during the years is continued. I thank the
Minister for responding so quickly to the representations which have
been made to date and ask him to use his good offices with the United
Nations and other agencies to ensure that further tragedies can be
avoided and that the food and clothing which are badly needed are
Minister meet at an early date with the Daughters of Charity, the Holy
Ghost Fathers and the family of Fr. Felim to obtain a first-hand account
of what is happening in Sierra Leone and to see what they require?
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring) Tánaiste and
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring)
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr.
Spring): I welcome this opportunity to reply to the remarks made
by Deputies Owen and Ryan on this tragic incident. I will attempt to
reply to the various questions raised. The brutal murder by rebels of
Fr. Felim McAllister, an Irish member of the Holy Ghost Congregation, in
Sierra Leone on 12 March was a terrible tragedy. I am sure all Members
of this House will join me in condemning this murder in the strongest
A Dutch lay
volunteer, Dr. Elco Krijn, his wife Karim, and their young daughter Zita,
were also killed in the same attack as they were trying to leave the
hospital at Panguma early in the morning. Four sisters of the
Congregation of the Daughters of Charity, including one Irish nun, Sr.
Madeleine Naughton, were lucky to escape with their lives.
around Panguma has been the scene of increased rebel activity in recent
weeks. As the missionaries and volunteers tried to leave the hospital
they were attacked by rebels. The two vehicles carrying Fr. McAllister
and the lay volunteers were attacked and set on fire.
 The nuns in the third vehicle had the
narrowest of escapes by driving through the gunfire and managed to reach
the capital, Freetown, later in the day.
On behalf of
the Government, I extend my deepest sympathy to the relatives of all
those killed in the attack and particularly to the members of Fr.
McAllister's family in Dublin. I also offer my condolences to Very Rev.
Brian McLaughlin, Provincial Superior of the Holy Ghost Congregation,
and to the other members of the order on the tragic death of Fr.
McAllister who worked so selflessly to help the people of Sierra Leone
since he began working in that country in 1968.
to being parish priest of Panguma, Fr. McAllister had been administrator
of Panguma hospital from 1986 to 1989. His commitment and dedication to
helping the people of the area was best expressed in his unceasing
efforts in recent months to provide food and shelter for those displaced
by rebel activity. These efforts were often undertaken at great risk to
his own life.
McAllister's death, the Irish Honorary Consul in Freetown, at the
request of my Department, has maintained constant contact with the
Government of Sierra Leone at a high level conveying our deep concern at
this incident. He is also actively involved in ensuring the protection
of the Irish missionaries who are still in the country.
The head of
state, Captain Strasser, who is also chairman of the National
Provisional Ruling Council, has written to the Taoiseach conveying the
deepest condolences of the Government and people of Sierra Leone to the
bereaved relatives and friends of Fr. McAllister and to the Irish people
as a whole on this sad loss. Captain Strasser said that the murder of
Fr. McAllister was a dastardly act which the Government and people of
Sierra Leone deplore and condemn in the strongest possible terms.
The area in
which the attack took place  in
eastern Sierra Leone has been the scene of increasing rebel activity in
recent months. This activity is largely caused by dissident elements in
the Sierra Leone army together with rebels crossing over the border from
neighbouring Liberia. We are assured that the Government of Sierra Leone
is making every effort to deal with the rebel activity.
indicate that disturbances are continuing in areas of eastern Sierra
Leone. Because of this, I understand that most of the Irish missionaries
in the area around Panguma and Kenema have moved to the town of Bo for
safety. Three Irish missionaries remain in Kenema. If the security
situation deteriorates further, they and the Irish missionaries now in
Bo are prepared to move to the capital, Freetown.
will continue to monitor the situation in Sierra Leone very closely in
consultation with our European Union partners and through our Honorary
Consul there. We will also keep in close contact here in Ireland with
those missions such as the Holy Ghost Fathers and the Sisters of the
Congregation of the Daughters of Charity who have missionaries in Sierra
requested that I meet the Orders concerned and the relatives of the late
Fr. McAllister. It is my intention to meet the provincials of both
Orders together with Mr. Noel McAllister, a brother of the late Fr.
Felim McAllister, and with Sr. Madeleine Naughton who was involved in
the incident. I hope that this meeting can take place within the next
Dáil Éireann 440
Adjournment Debate. Death of Irish National in