Niall Mellon saddened Higgins unable to visit projects in South Africa

Charity organiser disappointed but hails ‘great President’ who is making a difference

Charity organiser Niall Mellon has said he is disappointed President Michael D Higgins will not be visiting his schemes in South Africa next week.

Some 200 volunteers are flying out this weekend to build schools in Nelson Mandela’s home village of Mthatha in the eastern Cape, as part of a goal of providing schools to educate 100,000 of Africa’s children over the next 10 years.

President Higgins is going to visiting the country as part of his three week visit to the continent.

The Niall Mellon Township Trust has started to build schools, having built thousands of homes in South Africa over the last 12 years.

"The dates overlapped completely. We couldn't believe our luck that the week he is in South Africa is the week that 200 Irish people, under the Irish flag, are building down in Mandela's village. It is an incredible occasion," Mr Mellon told Newstalk's Pat Kenny programme.

Mr Mellon described the President as a “wonderful supporter” of his charity and somebody who has always been motivated by a sense of social justice.

“He declined coming. That is what it is,” said the activist. “My volunteers will surely be a bit deflated, but I would say to any of them that we . . . have a great President who is doing a lot to make a difference in the world.

“It is important for volunteers . . . to move on and remember the personal reasons you came out as a volunteer.”

Mr Mellon said he only found out about Mr Higgins’s visit to South Africa in early this month and extended an invitation to him on November 4th.

A spokesman said the President was already in Africa when he received the invitation, by which stage the programme for South Africa had already been finalised.