Seamus Mallon hailed as ‘great Irishman’ at tribute dinner

Former SDLP deputy first minister praised for showing ‘disdain for sectarian politics’


The former SDLP deputy first minister Seamus Mallon has been hailed as a “great Irishman” and a “genuinely historic figure” who had shown “disdain for tribal and sectarian politics”.

The remarks were made by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in the Armagh City Hotel at a dinner in honour of 78-year-old Mr Mallon, which was attended by 700 people and organised by the SDLP and the local business community.

During the night speakers paid tribute to Mr Mallon’s political career, going back through his involvement in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and his long career in the SDLP, which culminated in his becoming the North’s first deputy first minister in 1998.

“By any measure Seamus Mallon is a great Irishman,” said Mr Martin. “He showed disdain for tribal and sectarian politics - for politics which saw everything through the lens of getting one over on the other side. He built an unmatched progressive legacy on foundations of absolute integrity and public support.”

‘Genuinely historic figure’

Describing him as a “genuinely historic figure”, Mr Martin said Mr Mallon’s political career provided hope in dark times. “He retired with the certain knowledge that he had made a real and sustained difference,” he said.

Mr Martin talked about Mr Mallon’s career as SDLP deputy leader, as an MP and Assembly member for Newry and Armagh, and as a member of the Seanad, before adding: “George Orwell once defined political language as ‘designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of substance to pure wind’. You could apply that to the words of many prominent men but it’s just about the direct opposite of how you would describe Seamus Mallon’s words.”

Mr Martin said Mr Mallon practised a positive and inclusive nationalism which believed in uniting people and finding common ground.

“At a time when those who committed and still honour sectarian and violent acts try to claim the mantle of peacemakers, let’s never forget one thing; the real peacemakers in the North of Ireland are those who were never sectarian and never used violence, no matter how big the provocation.”

‘Source of inspiration’

SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said Mr Mallon brought “energy” to the party over several years and that he was still a source of inspiration.

Dr McDonnell also took advantage of the dinner to promote the candidacy of former Armagh All-Ireland winner Justin McNulty, who will be contesting Mr Mallon’s old constituency of Newry and Armagh in the May Westminster election.

Mr McNulty will be seeking to gain the seat at the expense of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy won the seat with a majority of more than 8,000 from the then SDLP candidate, Dominic Bradley MLA, in the last British general election.

Dr McDonnell said the best “legacy” for Mr Mallon’s life and work was to regain his seat for the SDLP.