Marian Finucane caught up with Seamus Mallon when he was in Dublin recently with David Trimble to pick up their honorary degrees from Dublin City University. She did not pussy foot around, and began by asking the SDLP’s former Deputy First Minister, what he thought [in his own words] ‘needs to be said’:
Stop this interminable failure to deal with issues, to them put them on the long finger, to treat them as though they didn’t exist. To run your political executive on trips to America and China, etc, etc and ignore the things about you under your feet in Belfast and throughout the North of Ireland.
Look at the whole way in which issues, that affect everybody’s lives, are not being dealt with. The question of the Parades Commission, that is the role of the political process, they haven’t taken it, they haven’t done anything about it.
The way in which education is in a shambles, no one knows, exactly, parents don’t know what type of school their children are going to go, what is going to be required to get them into a school.
Regarding his own relation with a certain prominent unionist leader of the past, he noted that they had had no difficulty in identifying flags as a potential point of conflict and moved to sort it out at Stormont between them:
“David Trimble and I when we were trying to set things up when we were called First and Deputy First Ministers, that was one of the issues that we had to deal with. And we sat down. We talked it through. And we said ‘right’, I think it was I who said it, ‘let’s see what happens at Westminster, then no unionist can object’.
“It was agreed. There never was a word about it. And I must say I would have thought Belfast City Council, and I include all the parties, would have more important things to deal with than to be going on to that issue.
“And that going on that issue actually opened a can of worms in terms of the flag protests, and it is part of a whole syndrome that is going on within unionism and republicanism, and that is take every opportunity to poke your fingers in the eye of unionism or republicanism and try and get one over them.”
This is, as Belfast already knows to its cost, the subject of a long (and no doubt expensive) US consultancy under the chair of Dr Richard Haass (no offence Richard, btw)…
Tom Kelly, in his Irish News yesterday, described Mallon as waspish in his delivery, but:
Trimble and Mallon were a partnership of equals. Mallon certainly never acted as a consort to Trimble, nor did Trimble ever disparagingly refer to his partner as his deputy.
He also notes that in having decline the leadership of the SDLP… “the nationlaist community and indeed wider society were entitled to the benefits of Mallon’s electoral nous and political eloquence.”
And further, the comparison between Mallon and Trimble’s relatively modest but stable achievements with the today is stark:
No matter how many joint photo-calls the executive has and no matter how many times the FM and FDM try to reassure that their marriage is safe, this is a dysfunctional partnership.
No wedding album ever held together a bad marriage. Give some recent decisions and solo runs certain minister could only be described as politically and ideologically feral.
Asked if he was a fan of Martin McGuinness or Gerry Adams he made it clear he was not. He referred to the deaths of Patsy Gillespie and Jean McConville as signal events in the past of each men he found a block to any sense of friendship.
He went on to chart the political ramifications for nationalism, as he saw it, of Sinn Fein’s long war:
If those are the things that are sticking in my mind what are they doing to the unionist mind, and to unionist attitudes? Now they will immediately say, ‘ah but what about what the unionists did?’ And of course, I could write books about that.
But if we are going to have an integrity in Irish republicanism, because I don’t concede republicanism to Sinn Fein or the IRA because they have debased it, but if we are going to have integrity in terms of Irish republicanism, then it has got to be an organic thing.
It has got to look into the unionist heart as well as the unionist mind. It has got to, even despite what unionism does, we have got to make unionism part of Irish life. And unfortunately they are not.
That is why they are camped out in this mock show of strength just outside Ardoyne. Can you believe it in this day and age? They tried it in Garvaghey Road in Portadown, they are now trying it again. What are they trying to prevent or tell us?
But we should be trying to listen to what they are trying to tell us, and not humiliate them as things like the Castlederg march did.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty