Tributes have been paid to Irish charity worker Sally O’Neill Sanchez after her death in a car crash in Guatemala.

The well-known Tyrone woman was a prominent figure in Trócaire for 37 years.

The organisation expressed its "profound shock and devastation" at the news of her death.

"We are heartbroken by this news. Sally was the heartbeat of Trócaire for almost 40 years," said Trócaire CEO, Caoimhe de Barra.

"She was a truly remarkable person. Trócaire was only five years old when Sally joined. Sally built the foundations of the organisation. She embodied our values and through her courage and commitment to human rights touched the lives of so many people.

"Although we still cannot believe she is gone, we know that she left an incredible footprint on the world"

"I was with Sally last week in Guatemala. Despite having officially retired, she remained a driving force for human rights in Central America. Her drive, passion and commitment was as strong as ever. Sally was much beloved by communities and human rights activists throughout Central America. She dedicated her life to improving the lives of others. Her legacy will live on through the thousands of people whose lives she helped to improve," said Ms de Barra.

"Our hearts go out to Sally's family, particularly her children Roger, Rhona and Xio, and her husband, Roger. Although we still cannot believe she is gone, we know that she left an incredible footprint on the world."

President Michael D Higgins said he was "greatly saddened" by the news that Sally and three of her colleagues had died.

"She distinguished herself for four decades through her commitment and unstinting belief in the dignity and inherent equality of all human beings. Her work placed her at the front line during some of the most significant global humanitarian crises," said the President.

"To have known Sally O'Neill Sanchez was a privilege.

"Sally understood the importance of combining tangible assistance and practical compassion with the pursuit of long-term solutions to the root causes of poverty, marginalisation and oppression.

"Through her work she empowered countless people and she was relentless in calling on those with power to bring their influence to bear on the policies and politics that affected those most vulnerable," said President Higgins.

"I was privileged to have her as a friend and will never forget the brilliant guidance and assistance she provided on so many occasions and in so many places.

"She will be missed by so many, but most acutely by her family, her wide circle of friends and her former colleagues in Trócaire."

"Through her work she empowered countless people"

Originally from Dungannon in Co Tyrone, Sally joined Trócaire in 1978 and dedicated her life to working with the poor, the marginalised and victims of human rights abuses. She retired from Trócaire in April 2015 after 37 years of service.

She worked primarily on Trócaire projects in Latin America but she was also involved in providing famine relief in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s and established Trócaire's programme in Somalia in the early 1990s in response to a famine there.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said all possible assistance will be provided to Sally's family.

"I was greatly saddened today to hear of the death of Sally O'Neill Sanchez, a lifelong advocate for human rights and the dignity of all people, dedicating her life to working with the poor and the marginalised," he said.

"Sally was a remarkable woman who made a tremendous contribution to Irish society and to disadvantaged communities across the world. She presented the best of what it is to be Irish, working tirelessly to empower those impacted by poverty and injustice.

"With her sad passing, Ireland and the countries where she had such a significant impact have lost a dedicated defender of human rights and equality for all.

"I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to Sally's family at this most difficult time."

Prior to her retirement, Sally was Trócaire's Head of Region for Latin America, based in Honduras.

Throughout her career, Sally worked on the frontline during some of the most significant global humanitarian crises.

She worked in Central America at a time when civil wars were being fought in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. She oversaw humanitarian aid to more than two million refugees in the Central American region during those conflicts years.

Sally also led delegations of politicians and bishops to Central America so they could see the suffering, translating for Archbishop Oscar Romero six weeks before he was murdered.

In 1982, Sally and Michael D Higgins - who was then a TD - visited El Salvador to investigate reports of a massacre in the village of El Mozote.

They were initially refused entry into the country but were eventually granted access.

They uncovered evidence of a massacre of civilians and their report from El Mozote made its way onto the pages of the international media, including the New York Times and The Washington Post.

Sally was appointed by President Michael D Higgins as a member of the High Level Panel for the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad in 2012 and awarded the Hugh O´Flaherty Humanitarian Award in 2011.

In July 2017 she was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Law degree by the University of Ulster.

Following her retirement, Sally continued to work in a voluntary capacity as a facilitator with prisoners and migrants in Honduras, where she lived. 

As well as her ongoing work with human rights organisations in Central America, she lectured in Development Studies in the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras in Tegucigalpa.