Who is Denis O'Reilly?

  • 22/08/2018

Lifetime Black Power member Denis O'Reilly spoke up for gang members in a tense exchange with The AM Show host Duncan Garner on Wednesday morning.

But who is Mr O'Reilly and how did someone with early ambitions of becoming a priest end up in the gang?

Mr O'Reilly was born in Timaru in 1952 and told E-Tangata he spent a lot of his early life in Catholic education before making the decision to join the priesthood.

But he had only been at the Marist Fathers' Seminary at Greenmeadows in Napier for a year before he left to become a member of Black Power.

"We'd been brought up with Latin-American liberation theology. Social justice I suppose you'd call it... I just saw these Māori guys being picked on," he told E-Tangata in November 2017.

"I got a job at a gas station in Newtown and I met all these Black Power fullas who worked for a concrete company called Riteways.

"They used to drink at the Tramways and I suppose that's where the Catholic social justice thing kicked in. I thought: 'Well, this is what I'm meant to do.' And that's pretty much what I've done."

Mr O'Reilly took part in a movement to end the practice of 'blocking' alongside his wife Taape Tareha.

"I was part of a movement within the Black Power that stood against the behaviour of what was effectively pack rape," he told NZME in 2016.

"I do not know if my strong stance against 'the block' assuages my guilt, but I do know that this practice is now uncommon and looked poorly upon even by those on the absolute social periphery."

He moved into advocacy and in his travels struck up an unlikely friendship with former Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.

"I was doing an MBA in Melbourne when he died. I borrowed some money to come back and got 150 of the boys to come and we did the haka for him," he told the Listener in February 2017.

"On the way out, Thea -[Mr Muldoon's widow] grabbed me and said, "My -husband would have loved that."

Currently, Mr O'Reilly is working as a gang advocate. The Listener reported he was going to pursue a PHD, but he told E-Tangata he did not have any time to work on it.