Noel Whelan, leading figure of marriage equality campaign, dies aged 50

Following a short illness, Noel Whelan, who played an instrumental role in Ireland's campaign for equal marriage, has died.

Noel Whelan

Noel Whelan has died at the ages of 50 following a short illness. Mr Whelan was a leading figure in the campaign to introduce Marriage Equality and acted as a Strategic Advisor to Yes Equality.

An Irish Times columnist, author and former advisor to Fianna Fáil, Mr Whelan played an instrumental role in the campaign for equal marriage.

Noel Whelan

A barrister for 19 years, he was also heavily involved in the campaign to save the Seanad and to Repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Tributes for Noel Whelan have been pouring in, he is being remembered as a “patriot” and a man of “great intellect”.

Rory O’Neill shared his gratitude for all of Mr Whelan’s work tweeting: “Shocked and saddened to read this morning. I got married yesterday and Noel played a huge and invaluable role in making that possible and I’ll be forever grateful to him for that. Sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Ailbhe Smyth shared condolences: “Very sad to hear of the death of Noel Whelan. He was a tower of strength & wisdom during not only Marriage Equality ref, but also so generously in Repeal campaign. He will be most sorely missed. Deepest sympathy to his family.”

Justin McAleese tweeted: “Noel Whelan was a great Irish patriot. His leadership, determination and passion played an immeasurable role in the success of the 2015 marriage equality referendum. He was the very best of Ireland and his death is a loss to us all.”

In GCN’s special commemorative issue, Mr Whelan reflected on the marriage equality campaign:

“In 25 years of involvement in politics, elections and referenda I have never seen or worked on anything as important, as exciting, and as effective as the Yes Equality campaign.

“Last year because of my background in politics, most recently as one of the leaders of the successful Democracy Matters campaign opposing the abolition of the Seanad, I was asked by GLEN to a do a presentation at Pride week events in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, focusing on the then forthcoming marriage equality referendum.

“Part of my function, I think, was to dispel a sense of complacency which had grown up in the community that a victory in that referendum was a foregone conclusion. It was arising from those events that I became involved in an advisory group at the planning stages of the Yes Equality campaign.

Noel Whelan

“Then from late March, I volunteered time on a daily basis, offering strategic input as part of the central co-ordinating team. When asked to come on board I hoped I had something to offer in efforts to more strategically point the campaign towards the middle ground, where the referendum would be lost or won.

“One of the key achievements over the eight weeks before polling day was to maintain discipline and keep everyone on message. The restraint shown by gay and lesbian activists and speakers, particularly in the face of nasty messaging from the No side, was both impressive and humbling.

“By building a positive, energetic campaign Yes Equality not only achieved a historic victory for this crucial cause but it has transformed Irish political campaigning. Parties will be studying how this campaign was done when trying to shape their operations for the next general election.

“As a straight man, I have always been able to assume that I could marry once I found someone I loved, who would have me. I cannot claim therefore to truly understand how frustrating it must feel to have to ask the entire country in a public vote for the same right. The dignity, professionalism and skill with which Yes Equality approached that ask was a wonder to behold. It was an honour to work with such a wonderful team in achieving a Yes.”

Noel is survived by his wife Sinéad McSweeney and their son Séamus.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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