Relatives for Justice has paid tribute to Ancient Order of Hibernians President in the US, Danny O'Connell, branding him "a trailblazer and staunch ally" for Northern nationalists during his four-year tenure.

Mr O'Connell, who will step down from his role as President of the nationwide Irish American organisation this August, was the guest of honour at an event in An Chultúrlann this evening. RFJ spokesperson Mark Thompson said the AOH chief had responded to the Covid pandemic by "widening access for families struggling for justice to AOH members and senior politicians in America".

"Danny saw that Covid and the virtual world it spawned actually enabled more victims of state violence here to tell their story directly to AOH members across 50 states in webinars and Zoom meetings," he said. "Previously, we would have had to organise arduous visits to the US by campaigning relatives but Danny managed to bring the families and their supporters even closer by these virtual gatherings. He was a formidable ally in the battle against the British assault on the Good Friday Agreement."

Mark Thompson also praised the Ohio man for "raising more funds for good causes" than any previous President of the AOH. "Relatives for Justice, the Bogside Artists, The Pat Finucane Center, the Bloody Sunday Trust and many other sporting and community groups have benefited from the generosity of the AOH, thanks to Danny's leadership."

Fr Aidan Troy told a visiting delegation of around 40 Hibernians from across US that their support during the three-month Holy Cross girls' primary school dispute of 2001 had been a boon to parents. "The AOH were the first to say, 'we believe in you'," he said. "People were sending me the most horrendous messages to say, 'you're a barbarian for allowing those children to go up and down to school' but I'm not a parent. And when the parents used to say to me, 'we want to take our children to school is that too much?' I would say, 'no' and we did it. The AOH weighed in behind us and I am thankful for that."

At the event, Danny O'Connor was presented with a bog oak statuette in recognition of his work by civil rights champions Geraldine Finucane and Fr Aidan Troy. Speaking after the presentation, the AOH President said it was a privilege to have been honoured "by two icons".

"Over the years, you always wonder what type of impact your work has made but then two have two JFK Medal recipients (highest honour bestowed by the AOH in America) and present you with an award, well that is just breathtaking," he said. "It's my hope now that going forward the AOH continues to encourage bipartisan support from our representatives and senators to keep the feet of the British to the fire. We have seen with the British Legacy Act that there's a real need for the US as a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement to ensure our friends in Britain keep their commitments. So while I will be stepping down from my role, I have no doubt there will be no lessening in the work of the AOH on these crucial issues."