By David Young PA and Q Radio News
Senior republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey has died, Sinn Fein has announced.
Storey, from west Belfast, was a highly influential presence within the republican movement throughout the Troubles and subsequent peace process.
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill says he was "an enduring tower of strength who will be deeply missed:
It is with profound sadness that we have learned of the passing away of our much valued and loved friend and comrade, Bobby Storey.— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) June 21, 2020
On behalf of republicans I extend my sincere condolences to his family.
I measc laochra na nGael go raibh a anam dílis.https://t.co/VSYpID9acs pic.twitter.com/wXnK8DRPj0
The former Sinn Fein chairman north of the border was 64 and had been unwell for a period of time.
Party president Mary Lou McDonald said: "It was with deep sadness that I learned today of the death of Bobby Storey.
"Bobby was a lifelong and very deeply committed Irish Republican whose passing will be received with great sadness by republicans throughout Ireland."
It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Bobby Storey. His loss will be felt by all who were privileged to call him their friend. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann https://t.co/CRE3Jrx351— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) June 21, 2020
Storey spent more than 20 years in prison during the Troubles.
He was sentenced to 18 years for possession of a rifle in 1981 and also spent several periods behind bars remanded on other charges.
As a teenager, he had been interned without charge.
In 1983 he was involved in a mass escape by republican prisoners from the Maze paramilitary prison near Lisburn.
Former prison officer Ian Simpson says it was particularly poignant the death was announced on Father's Day:
In 2005, then Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside used parliamentary privilege to claim that Storey was the IRA's head of intelligence. He also alleged he was involved in the IRA's £26.5 million robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast in 2004.
Two years ago Mr Storey's house was targeted in an attack Sinn Fein blamed on dissident republicans.
Three years earlier, police investigating the murder of former IRA member Kevin McGuigan in Belfast arrested Storey.
He was subsequently released without charge.
In a press conference after his release he compared the IRA to a caterpillar, insisting the organisation had become a "butterfly" and had "flew away".
"The IRA has gone. The IRA has stood down, they have put their arms beyond use," he said.
"They have left the stage, they are away and they're not coming back."
In 2014, he was arrested as part of the police's overall investigation into the abduction and murder of Belfast mother of 10 Jean McConville in 1972. He was released without charge.
Ms McDonald described him as a "champion of the peace process".
"Bobby was extremely committed to the pursuit of a United Ireland with equality and social justice for all," she said.
"He will be greatly missed."
Meanwhile, victims' campaigner Kenny Donaldson says the Storey family deserves to mourn Bobby.
However, he added he must be remembered for his role in during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
He said, "No glee should ever be taken in the death of anyone, to do so debases our own humanity. The Storey family will mourn.
"But in all the historical revisionism likely to take place concerning the life Bobby Storey lived, there needs to be truth and fact reported.
"Bobby Storey chose to live life as a systemic terrorist and was responsible directly and indirectly for significant pain and misery within many families.
"We implore the Media to report responsibly over the coming days, do not airbrush away this man’s list for violence and physical force republicanism.
"In other Societies Bobby Storey would have been referred to and accepted across the board as being; a mafia henchman."
Former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams also spoke of his “deep sense of personal loss and sadness” at the death of his friend of many years Bobby Storey.
He said, "Bobby Storey was a stalwart of the struggle for Irish freedom for almost 50 years. As a young teenager growing up in North Belfast he witnessed, like many others of his generation, the violence and bigotry of the Unionist state, and then of the British Army.
“The introduction of internment in August 1971 and the murder of 14 civil rights marchers in Derry in January 1972 were two huge influences on his young life. Big Bobby chose to make a stand against these injustices. He was interned aged seventeen, one of the youngest internees, and in the decades that followed he spent over 20 years in prison.
“Bobby had a sharp, insightful political mind. He embraced the opportunity for building the republican struggle and advancing our goal of Irish Unity created by the peace process. At countless republican meetings he spoke in favour of Sinn Féin’s peace strategy.
"And when, following years of negotiations, the potential emerged for republicans to engage with the new policing dispensation Bobby played a leadership role in persuading others to grasp this new opportunity.
“Bobby was one of the bravest people I have ever had the honour to know. Whether inside or outside of prison, or through the years of harassment and beatings, arrests and torture from the RUC and British Army,
"Big Bobby demonstrated time and time again his enormous personal commitment and courage.
“He was also one of the funniest people I know. Big Bobby made light of his stammer. He could hold a group spellbound with his stories of past escapades and derring do. His accounts of life in prison in England were hilarious. He was kind, thoughtful, oyal and very giving.
“Bobby was part of an amazing group of people who over recent decades have formed a cohesive, effective collective leadership. During his time as Chairperson of Belfast Sinn Féin and of the Sinn Féin organisation in the North, Sinn Féin grew in electoral strength and representation.
“Big Bobby was loved and respected. In recent years as he battled his illness Bobby remained cheerful.
Death of Bobby Storey - Adams expresses “deep sense of loss”— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) June 21, 2020
"Big Bobby’s death is a huge political blow for republicans but is also a very personal loss for all of us who knew him. There were tears shed across Ireland as comrades got news of his death".https://t.co/ISSUnuVcXn pic.twitter.com/O5UTIB4uvZ
“He refused to allow it to prevent him from functioning as an activist. Last year he took on the task of reorganising the Sinn Féin Art/book shop on the Falls Road.
"As ever there were no half measures. The place was gutted out, completely redesigned and he took a personal interest in deciding what items would be on the shelves and helped design some of them. No task was too small or too great.
“Big Bobby’s death is a huge political blow for republicans but is also a very personal loss for all of us who knew him. There were tears shed across Ireland as comrades got news of his death.
“On behalf of Colette and myself and our family I extend my sincerest and deepest sympathies and solidarity to Teresa, their children and grandchildren, his brothers Seamus and Brian, his sister Geraldine, his extended family circle and his many friends."