Seamus Mallon RIP

The Former Deputy First Minister and Deputy Leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon has died at the age of 83.

He was elected as the MP for Newry & Armagh from 1986 to 2005, and served as deputy First Minister of the NI Executive from July 1998 until November 2001.

Speaking about his passing the SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood 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.

“I joined the SDLP because of people like Seamus Mallon. His absolute opposition to the murder and maiming of our neighbours, his immense work to reform policing and deliver a new Police Service that could command the support of our entire community and his unrelenting commitment to making this a place we can all call home inspired so many young SDLP members.

“Throughout my political life, Seamus was 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.

“The pride of Seamus’ life was his dearly loved late wife Gertrude, their daughter Orla and granddaughter Lara. My thoughts and prayers are with Orla, her husband Mark, and Lara at this difficult time. I hope they’re comforted by Seamus’ incredible legacy and the indelible mark he left on the lives of so many people.”

The Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald has also commented;

“I’m saddened to learn of the death of former deputy First Minister and SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon.

“Seamus will 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.

“My thoughts and condolences are with his family and colleagues at this sad and difficult time.

The Alliance Party Leader, Naomi Long said;

It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of Seamus Mallon, a man who contributed an enormous amount to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Just over a year ago I shared a discussion platform with Seamus, which was a pleasure, as he had lost none of his wit or wisdom.
“Seamus played a pivotal role in the delivery of the Good Friday Agreement, which set us on the path to a peaceful society. Throughout his political life he showed a total commitment to civil rights and the ending of violence. He was not afraid to speak his mind and his integrity stayed with him to the end.”
“I would offer my deepest sympathies to his daughter and family, SDLP colleagues and friends. He will be sadly missed.”
Steve Aiken, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party:

“First and foremost our sympathies are with Seamus Mallon`s family, friends and SDLP colleagues. I was very sad to hear this news. His passing is a massive loss. While we didn`t agree on some things, there is no doubt that Seamus Mallon was a great Irishman.

“In Seamus, the Ulster Unionist Party found someone who we could work with to restore devolution to Northern Ireland. Seamus Mallon was a tough politician who was committed to the primacy of politics and never forgot his roots.”

Lord Empey, former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and member of the House of Lords:

“I worked with Seamus Mallon throughout the Mitchell Talks process, and indeed served as Acting First Minister briefly while he was deputy First Minister.

“There was no doubt that if John Hume was the SDLP’s ideas man, Seamus was the person to turn those ideas into practice and workable solutions.

Seamus was emotional at times, but a steadfast opponent of all forms of paramilitary violence. He could see what damage it was doing to his dream of a genuinely united Ireland.

“I don’t believe the Good Friday process could have succeeded without him. He understood the practicalities and realities of politics and government, something that some of his colleagues failed to appreciate.

“He also had a dry sense of humour, especially during the many crisis talks we had at Hillsborough and other locations over the years.

“He always felt let down by both Governments for their failure to uphold both the letter and spirit of the Agreement and was furious at times when deals were done behind our backs.

“I think all of us have lost a champion of democracy and justice today.”

Micheál Martin, leader Fianna Fáil:
I was deeply saddened earlier today to learn of the death of my friend and long time political hero Seamus Mallon.

Seamus was, by any credible measure, a truly great Irishman. In the difficult and complex history of Northern Ireland, there are very few political leaders who emerge with an unblemished record of service that stands up to detailed scrutiny. Seamus Mallon is one of them.

As an Assembly Member, Senator, MP and Deputy First Minister he was consistent and committed in his cause.

Heedless to the threat to his life from all sides in the Northern conflict, he was fearless and ferocious in his opposition to violence and his commitment to building a shared society.

He understood the deepest dynamics of Irish history better than anyone I have ever met. We spoke many times over the years and I had the great privilege of spending some hours with him in his home in Markethill in April discussing political developments.

Seamus was a no-nonsense politician and individual. He called it as he saw it and he never compromised in his honesty, whether he was on the streets of Newry and Armagh or in the state rooms of Downing Street or the White House.

He was deeply devoted to his late wife Gertrude and immensely proud of his daughter Orla. She and the entire family will be feeling a profound sense of loss today. They should also be feeling an equally profound sense of pride in having shared this remarkable man with the rest of the country and the world.

He was Republican in the truest sense of the word and his contribution to political life in this country is immeasurable. His death is the end of an era and I will miss his friendship and advice.

On behalf of the entire Fianna Fáil organisation I offer my condolences to Orla, her entire family circle and his former colleagues in the SDLP.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Leader of the Irish Labour party, Brendan Howlin:
“Seamus made an immeasurable contribution to the cause of peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.  Together with John Hume he drove forward a vision of an Ireland freed from the spectre of violence, terror and discrimination.  His life will be celebrated by Irish people everywhere who cherish the peace that Seamus dedicated his life to.”
Tanaiste, Simon Coveney:

It was with great sorrow that I learned of Seamus Mallon’s passing. On behalf of the Government, I want to express my deepest condolences to Seamus’ daughter Órla, his son-in-law Mark, his granddaughter Lara and his wider family.

Seamus Mallon was a truly historic figure. He spent his entire career, indeed his entire life, working for peaceful, democratic and inclusive answers to Northern Ireland’s political problems. He advocated for justice and equality, often in the face of threats, intimidation and vilification, displaying remarkable courage. He will be remembered as one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, a man who worked tirelessly for decades to try to bring about peace, and then reconciliation, on the island of Ireland.

Seamus Mallon had a long, distinguished political career, beginning as an SDLP councillor in 1973, and shortly afterwards serving in the newly established Northern Ireland Assembly. He was appointed a member of Seanad Eireann in 1982 and then served as a Westminster MP for almost 20 years. His political career culminated with his term as Deputy First Minister from 1998 to 2001, but he continued to represent the people of Newry and Armagh at Westminster until 2005. He ably represented the concerns of the nationalist community in Westminster, giving that community a strong and eloquent voice. He remains the only Irish politician to have served in Stormont, Leinster House and Westminster.

Seamus abhorred all violence and he bravely and consistently condemned all killings, from whatever source. Early in his public life, he made a promise to himself to visit the homes and attend the funerals of all the victims of political and sectarian violence in his Newry and Armagh constituency, He often faced criticism for this stance and spoke openly about the loneliness he often felt as a result of this position. 

Seamus has left an indelible legacy on the island of Ireland. We have earlier this month witnessed the restoration of the power-sharing institutions in Stormont, institutions which Seamus himself helped to create in his role during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. It is my sincerest hope that his life and his dedication to the principles of honesty, integrity and generosity will serve as an inspiration to the next generation of political leaders in Northern Ireland.

Seamus was completely devoted to his homeplace of Markethill and to South Armagh. He spoke openly about his experience of growing up within a predominately Protestant area and the effect that it had on his life – personal and political. He recognised that the only way to ensure lasting peace in Ireland was to foster understanding and generosity across all traditions. It was Seamus’ wish, and indeed his life’s work, that the island of Ireland become a “shared home place” for people of all communities, backgrounds, and political beliefs.

Statement from the First and Deputy First Minister

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