Seamus Mallon would be ‘despairing’ over political deadlock in Northern Ireland, daughter says

Former taoiseach says ‘time, understanding and example’ needed to reach a solution to impasse

Former Stormont deputy first minister Seamus Mallon would be “extremely frustrated” at the current political situation in Northern Ireland, his daughter Orla has said.

Speaking at a cross-party political event in Newry, Co Down, Ms Mallon said her father, who died in 2020, would be “despairing” at the fact the North has been without a functioning Executive or Assembly for more than a year. The DUP quit the Stormont institutions in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements and efforts to find a resolution to the deadlock are ongoing.

Ms Mallon told the event, organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation, on the theme ‘A Shared Home Place’, that her father would be particularly frustrated at Northern Irish politics being “stuck in a quagmire”.

“Dad was always a person to take a bull by the horns,” she said.


Did deliver

However, Ms Mallon concluded by saying that a generation of people had now grown up in Northern Ireland without the same experience as those who did so during the Troubles. She said her father, a former SDLP deputy leader, and others involved in the peace process “did deliver because of what we have now”.

Former taoiseach Enda Kenny said he agreed that Mr Mallon would be frustrated at the lack of political progress, but that they had always believed the situation in Northern Ireland was not impossible.

He said both men rejected the 1976 comment by Prof Richard Rose, who said “many talk about a solution to Ulster’s political problem but few are prepared to say what the problem is. The reason is simple. The problem is that there is no solution”.

Mr Kenny said he believed “time, understanding and example” were needed to reach a solution.

Separate experiences

He said he called to Mr Mallon’s home “whenever I was in the area”, including during his time as taoiseach between 2011 and 2017, and that they on occasion discussed their separate experiences and understandings of terrorism.

Mr Kenny recalled being a child and travelling in a caravan with his parents and siblings. He said they stopped in Armagh and a crowd gathered and he could hear calls from some for the caravan to be burned.

He said Mr Mallon’s experience was of coming home on winter nights “from the funeral of yet another atrocity” perpetuated by people who lived “cheek by jowl” with their victims.

Mr Kenny said he and Mr Mallon agreed that a simple nationalist majority would not be the solution to the Troubles. “None of us believed 50 per cent plus one was the end of it,” he said.


Former minister for foreign affairs Dermot Ahern told the gathering that “Seamus knew and foresaw” the political decline of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists. But, he added: “I think he would be more despondent now than he was after the Good Friday Agreement with the way things have evolved.”

Tim Attwood, Hume Foundation secretary, said: “Seamus Mallon was committed to the genuine reconciliation of conflicting traditions using only peaceful means.

“It is vitally important that we reflect on the generous words in his book A Shared Home Place and engage in a positive, inclusive and challenging conversation about people, peace and politics on the island over the next 25 years.”

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist