Noel Whelan, leading equal marriage campaigner, dies aged 50

Emma Powys Maurice July 11, 2019
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Tributes are pouring in for Noel Whelan, who has died aged 50 (David Conachy/Independant)

Noel Whelan, a leading figure in the campaign to introduce same-sex marriage in Ireland, has died at the age of 50 after a short illness.

The political writer and barrister passed away on the evening of Wednesday 10 July. As a well-known commentator on Irish radio and television, he was heavily involved in recent referendum campaigns to introduce same-sex marriage and legalise abortion in the Republic of Ireland.

The Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar lead the tributes to Whelan, tweeting that he felt “Ireland had lost a friend” who was “so articulate and effective on marriage equality.”

Senior figures in Irish law and journalism also expressed their grief at Whelan’s passing and gratitude for all he had done.

The Irish Times editor Mark Hennessy wrote: “A life well lived by a good man. May he rest in peace.” Political correspondent Gavan Reilly tweeted: “Dreadfully sad. A gentleman and a scholar, remembered fondly by anyone whose path he ever crossed.”

The gay rights campaigner Justin McAleese called Whelan “the very best of Ireland.”

Whelan is survived by his wife, Sinead, and son, Séamus.

In the years preceding the referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland, Whelan spoke fervently of the need for LGBT+ people to be recognised as equal. As early as 2013, two years before the referendum, he wrote in the Irish Times that the time had arrived for same-sex marriage.

In a 2015 article written shortly before the vote took place, he urged: “Remember that those impacted by this referendum are real people whose real lives cannot be dismissed by false slogans. They are our brothers, sisters, daughters and sons, our family, our friends.”


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