President Michael D. Higgins mourns loss of Seamus Mallon as an 'activist of unsurpassed courage' as Ireland and Britain pay tribute

Leading political figures in Ireland and Britain have paid tribute to the late SDLP veteran Seamus Mallon including President Michael D. Higgins who described him as as an 'activist of unsurpassed courage'.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 6:11 pm
Seamus Mallon with the late Ian Paisley in 1997.

President Higgins said: “I am deeply saddened by the passing of Seamus Mallon, former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, former member of Seanad Éireann, and lifelong civil rights campaigner. His 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. He was a man who demonstrated integrity and courage in the face of opposition and threat, playing a vital role in building the peace process.

"He was instrumental in bringing into being a meaningful discourse that heralded a new possibility of civil rights within a shared island.

"Seamus Mallon served with distinction in Westminster, Stormont and in the Oireachtas as a member of Seanad Éireann and his ability to build relationships in support of peace and reconciliation leaves a lasting legacy, not just in the North but across Ireland.

"I witnessed at first hand his deep commitment to seeing an end and a fair representation of the troubles in Northern Ireland and I am honoured to share the Freedom of Drogheda with him.

"A person of deep humility in the little things as well as the major issues, Sabina and I have been fortunate to meet Seamus on many occasions and we were always struck by his great sense of humour and warmth of character. His death leaves a gap that will be difficult to fill.

"To his daughter Orla, his grandchild, and all those who knew and loved him, Sabina and I send our deepest sympathy."

The Tánaiste Simon Coveney said: "He has made an extraordinary contribution to politics and people on this island. He was tough, intelligent and passionate, always working for peace and reconciliation. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. RIP," he said.

Secretary of State Julian Smith said: "Seamus Mallon dedicated his political career to making Northern Ireland a better place. His leadership with David Trimble of the first Executive in 1999 set Northern Ireland on a new democratic course. I want to express my sincere condolences to his family, friends and the SDLP."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said: "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."

Alastair Campbell who was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Press Secretary at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, said: "So sad that Seamus Mallon has died. He was one of the nice guys. And one of the great guys when it came to the peace process in Northern Ireland. He did not always get the biggest headlines because he didn’t shout the loudest. He had commitment and intelligence to match.

"He was motivated by the right things and went about them in the right way. He was a man of passionate views and beliefs always rooted in the desire to improve the lives of the place and the people he came from. But he was pragmatic not ideological in his pursuit of them.

"My last dealings with him were over a little film we made for the People's Vote campaign. We lost that one but it showed he fought to the end for what he believed. And his life and career as a whole were a huge success. His positive legacy in Ireland is immense. RIP," said Mr. Campbell.