TDS SET ASIDE some time this evening to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, as South Africa began the official ceremonial mourning of its former leader.
Speaking in the Dáil, party leaders shared their thoughts and memories of Mandela, and spoke of his relationship with Ireland.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that Mandela’s “epic battle” is a reminder of a responsibility to stand up to injustice, and recalled when Mandela spoke in the Dáíl in 1990:
I was present in this chamber when he addressed a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas on his visit to Ireland in 1990, just six months after his release from prison after 27 years.
On that day, speaking in the chamber, he showed no bitterness, no resentment, and no hostility, towards the regime that denied him his freedom and denied his fellow South Africans their basic human rights.
Instead, on that July afternoon, his message was one of hope for a better future for South Africa and love for his fellow man.
It was also one of gratitude to the Irish people, for the welcome he had received, but above all else, for his whole hearted and often sacrificial support for the anti-apartheid movement.
Kenny ended his speech with simply “Slán abhaile, Madiba”.
Minster Joan Burton, who lived in Africa for a number of years and was involved in the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, spoke on behalf of the Labour party.
“I saw up close both the struggle to free South Africa, and the solidarity shown by campaigners across the world,” she said.
His memory will remain alive in Africa, and all over the world, as long as there are people who have a thirst for justice and freedom.
At the turn of millennium, he said in a magazine interview that he dreamed of an Africa at peace with itself.
As someone who lived in Africa and holds it dear in my heart, I hope his dream is one day realised.
Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin said that Mandela’s story a “perfect antidote to the relentless cynicism that infects politics”.
He, like other speakers, praised the Dunnes Stores workers strike in the 1980s, saying they “embodied direct action against the fundamentally flawed regime”. He added that there was an important bond between Ireland and Mandela:
The small but personal acts of defiance by men and women on a small island on the fringes of Europe resonated with those in the midst of a great struggle against an historic injustice.
His visit here in 1990 electrified the nation and underlined the deep bond between us.
Nelson Mandela embodied the fact that one man not only can make a difference but is morally obliged to and across the globe people have responded to that call.
Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin, called Mandela “a friend to those engaged in struggle for justice across the globe… and a friend to the people of Ireland”.
He referenced the ANC’s affinity with the IRA, saying that there are reports of the two organisations interacting and supplying military aid, and how Mandela marked the death of hunger-striker Bobby Sands on his prison calender.
Deputy Adams praised Mandela’s dedication to the South African cause:
“In the hard years when the Western powers were against him, when he was vilified as a terrorist, when he was denounced as a criminal, he kept the faith. He showed perseverance and vision.
There are lessons in all of this for us, but particularly for the people of the island of Ireland and all persuasions as we continue the necessary and challenging task of rebuilding the peace.”
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan, Chair of the Irish Section of Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa, spoke of the continuing challenges facing democracy in Africa and across the world.
“In [a] 1994 speech, he referred to an amnesty for the various categories of people currently serving time in prison”, she said, “and I hope his words and what he said then will reach out to those countries who have prisons in unfair unjust circumstances left in jail without charge and not being given the right to a fair trail”.