TRIBUTES have been paid to a "highly respected, influential and dedicated" North Belfast republican activist of over 50 years.

Tom 'Dutch' Holland passed away on Friday following a period of illness.

A former political prisoner and blanketman, Dutch spent his life campaigning for social and political rights at home and abroad.

For the last 20 years, he had been at the front of Sinn Féin’s international relations, working on solidarity initiatives relating to the Basque Country, Catalonia, Palestine, Cuba, Colombia, Kurdistan, South Africa and further afield. 

North Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly expressed deep sadness at the death of the lifelong republican.

“I am deeply saddened at the death of lifelong North Belfast republican Tom ‘Dutch’ Holland after a period of illness," he said.

“My first thoughts are with his wife Helen, his children Rio and Grace and grandchildren and I want to express my heartfelt condolences to them at this sad and very difficult time.

“This is a sad day for republicans up and down the country who will be mourning the loss of a highly respected, influential and dedicated republican activist of over 50 years.

“Tom was born into an apartheid state, and at a time when state-sponsored sectarianism and marginalisation of nationalists was the order of the day.

"Tom grew up in what would be the Jamaica area of Ardoyne which suffered the RUC and loyalist pogroms of 1969 when police killed two local men and wounded others. Tom became active at a very early age in the Republican struggle.

“In 1974, Tom was arrested and spent a total of 16 years as a political prisoner – first in Crumlin Road and then Magilligan Prison which he attempted to escape from in 1976, before spending time in the Cages of Long Kesh. 

“He was moved to the H-Blocks in 1978 after being sentenced for the escape attempt and he immediately joined the blanket protest until it ended after the death of his ten comrades on hunger strike.

“Following his release at the beginning of the 1990s, Tom Holland worked in Sinn Féin’s International Department. He continued to work with colleagues articulating and promoting the peace process and the party’s united Ireland message across the globe.

“He worked tirelessly to forge and sustain strong links with political struggles and organisations the world over and gained huge respect from political figures everywhere who valued his efficient work and his friendship.   

“But most importantly Tom was a loving husband, and a proud father who will be sorely missed by his family and all who knew him.

“I have known Tom Holland for many decades. Sinn Féin has lost a talented and experienced activist and a dear friend and comrade. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Tom's funeral will take place at Holy Cross Church at 1pm on Thursday. Cremation is Friday morning leaving Browns Undertakers at 8.30am.