Seamus Mallon: Tributes paid from across political spectrum

Michael D Higgins describes former SDLP MP as always honest and honourable

Seamus Mallon and  John Hume at the SDLP 33rd annual conference at the Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast in 2004. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Seamus Mallon and John Hume at the SDLP 33rd annual conference at the Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast in 2004. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Tributes have been paid from across the political spectrum to Seamus Mallon, the former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and deputy leader of the SDLP, who has died age 83.

Mr Mallon served as deputy to John Hume for two decades, and was a trenchant critic of both republican violence and discrimination against nationalists.

In a statement, Pat and John Hume said that “history will remember Seamus as one of the great Irish patriots and peacemakers.

“He was a man of huge strength and courage, who stood with John for many years in the fight for justice, peace and reconciliation on this island.”

They said Mr Mallon was “fearless” in condemning violence, and that “his clarity, insight and political nous sustained the SDLP.”

President Michael D Higgins said Mr Mallon’s reputation as a “politician and community activist of unsurpassed courage, civility and fairness is held by all those who had the privilege of knowing him.

“Few people have influenced the peace process in Northern Ireland more than Seamus Mallon, a formidable opponent and, a tough negotiator in speech and act, but always honest and honourable.”

Colum Eastwood, the current SDLP leader, said Mr Mallon was an Irish patriot. “He lived for our country and has left an indelible mark on the lives of everyone who enjoys the peace he helped to forge.”

In a joint statement, First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill paid tribute to Mr Mallon.

Ms Foster said he was “instrumental in bringing about peace for our people and that contribution should not go unrecognised”. And Ms O’Neill described him as “a significant political figure” whose “mark on our history is indelible”.

Seamus Mallon, 1936-2020

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‘Extraordinary contribution’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted: “History will remember Seamus as an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, a committed peace builder and a tireless champion of an inclusive Ireland.”

Micheál Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader, said Mr Mallon “gave all his working life to achieve the peace we enjoy today”.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said she was “saddened” to learn of his death and he would be remembered for his contribution to Irish politics over many decades as the SDLP deputy leader and the key role he played in achieving the Good Friday Agreement.”

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin expressed “ deep sadness” at the death of Mallon. “Seamus made an immeasurable contribution to the cause of peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland,” he said.

British government Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith said Mr Mallon “dedicated his political career to making Northern Ireland a better place”.

Mr Mallon served as deputy to first minister David Trimble in the first Northern Ireland Executive in 1999.

Lord Trimble said his role in brokering the Belfast Agreement was a “huge” achievement.

“Even though from then to now there have been huge ups and downs in the political system, there has been no move away from peace.”

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mr Mallon was a key negotiator for the SDLP in the talks leading to the agreement. “Seamus was strong with courage and he had commitment to peace and making progress for Northern Ireland and this whole island.”

A statement from former US president Bill Clinton said: “Hillary and I are saddened by the passing of Seamus Mallon, a hero of the peace process in Northern Ireland and a profoundly good man.

“A teacher in practice and in heart, the lessons of his life and power of his example are as important today as ever.”

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said Mr Mallon was “one of the most important architects of peace in Northern Ireland. Brave, blunt, often prepared to swim against the tide if he felt it right, he was someone deeply respected and admired across the troubled landscape of Irish politics.”

‘Likable stubborness’

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, said the people of Armagh had “lost one of our most respected sons and bravest leaders”.

He called for a renewed effort by political leaders to build a shared home place on the island of Ireland as a “fitting tribute to his legacy”.

Tom Kelly, a close political ally and former vice-chair of the SDLP who worked as Mr Mallon’s Westminster assistant in the late 1980s and then on most of his elections, said the former deputy first minister had a “transformative” effect on Northern Ireland, complimenting SDLP leader John Hume.

“John Hume painted with broad strokes, Seamus Mallon did detail,” Mr Kelly told The Irish Times.

He said Mr Mallon’s relationship with David Trimble was “an odd one, but it worked”. Mr Mallon could be “Thran” – a Northern word meaning stubborn, but it was “ a likable stubborness”.

“But his strength was that his instincts chimed with those of the nationalist community, specifically in rural areas; when he said something, it was how people felt, they just couldn’t articulate it.”