Tributes paid to political colossus and peacemaker
Hundreds of tributes from across the political spectrum have been paid to former SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, who passed away at his Markethill home on Friday at the age of 83.
A formidable political leader who earned respect from politicians across the divide, Mr Mallon served as deputy first minister in the NI Assembly from 1998 to 2001 and was the MP for Newry and Armagh from 1986 to 2005.
Educated at the Abbey Christian Brothers Grammar School in Newry and St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh, he followed a career in teaching before becoming active in politics.
During the 1960s he became heavily involved in the civil rights movement and was strategic in the formation of the SDLP, becoming a councillor for the party in 1973 before rising through the ranks to serve under John Hume as deputy leader of the party from 1979 until his retirement from politics in 2001.
As news of his passing broke on Friday evening, tributes flooded in, praising his forward thinking approach to peace building in the north and describing him as a “colossus of the peace process”.
Paying tribute to Mr Mallon, SDLP party leader Colm Eastwood said “Ireland has lost one of its most fierce champions for justice, equality and peace” as a result of his passing.
He said: “Seamus Mallon was a force of nature. In the darkest days of conflict, when hope was in short supply, Seamus represented the fierce thirst for justice that ran through the SDLP and through communities that had lost so much to political violence.”
“His passion for peace underpinned by truth, justice and reconciliation came from a lifetime as a proud son of Markethill where he was born, grew up and raised his own family. It didn’t matter who you were, where you worshipped or what your politics were, there was always help to be found at Seamus’ hearth.”
Mr Eastwood voiced his appreciation for the support he received from Seamus Mallon throughout his political life, describing him as “a constant source of guidance, advice and, when needed, some robust critical reflection”.
“His support has been an immense source of personal pride. I hope that I’ve done him proud in return. Seamus lived for Ireland and worked for all of its people – we are all the better for it,” he added.
Secretary of State Julian Smith offered his condolences to Mr Mallon’s bereaved family, friends and party colleagues.
He said Seamus Mallon was “passionate about politics” and sought to represent the views of all communities, and he paid tribute to his contribution to the development of policing in Northern Ireland, saying he fought “for the necessary reform to ensure the full participation of nationalists in the new policing structures introduced following the Good Friday Agreement”.
First Minister Arlene Foster said she was “very sorry” to learn of Mr Mallon’s passing.
Posting on her Twitter account she extended sympathy to his bereaved family and friends and recalled his now infamous words : “‘We have two stark and clear choices. We can live together in generosity and compassion or we can continue to die in bitter disharmony’.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Mr Mallon was “a significant political figure who made a huge contribution to the politics of peace and the Good Friday Agreement”.
“His mark on our history is indelible. I send my sympathy to his family, friends and political colleagues who will feel his loss deeply at this very sad time,” she added.
SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, Justin McNulty, offered his sympathy to his party colleague’s bereaved family and pointed out that it is “a sad and poignant twist of fate” that Mr Mallon passed away exactly 34 years to the day after he was elected as MP for the Newry and Armagh constituency on January 24th 1986.
Paying tribute to his colleague and friend, he said: “Séamus was a proud Irishman whose contribution to the Peace Process and the development of the Ireland we know is beyond measure. Séamus Mallon was a brave man. He met the challenges of a 40 year political maelstrom with a quiet unfaltering determination and fearlessness. With an unyielding integrity Séamus was truthful and trustworthy and that probity was respected whether in Whitecoss, Westminster or the White House.
“As a GAA man Séamus Mallon was a talented midfielder who then stepped into the game of his life and played centre field alongside the great John Hume. The two of them colossuses of the Peace Process who held fast and true to the central tenet of their shared political credos – a peaceful Ireland achieved through agreement. Séamus Mallon understood and had a genuine empathy with the Unionist community who were his lifelong neighbours.”
Newry & Armagh MP Mickey Brady said he is saddened to learn of Mr Mallon’s death who he described as “a formidable and highly respected politician, whose contribution to peace on this island is recognised and appreciated by all”.
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, said Mr Mallon was “a leader and risk taker”.
“He was an outspoken opponent of violence, who saw a better way of living if the people of this island learned to understand each other better. A peacemaker firmly committed to building a better future for all. Sympathy and prayers are extended to his family and colleagues at this sad time,” he added.
Seamus Mallon was predeceased by his wife Gertrude in October 2016 and is survived by his daughter Órla, son-in-law Mark, granddaughter Lara, sisters Maura, Jean and Kate and wider family circle. He is to be laid to rest today (Monday) following Requiem Mass at 12 noon in St. James’ Church, Mullaghbrack and interment in the adjoining cemetery.
Books of Condolence have been opened across the north offering the public the opportunity to record their sympathy and are available locally at Crossmaglen Community Centre, Newry Town Hall and the Council Offices, Monaghan Row.