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File. Seamus Mallon. PA Archive/PA Images
Civil Rights

Seamus Mallon, former Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, has died aged 83

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Ireland has lost “one of its most fierce champions for justice, equality and peace”.

LAST UPDATE | 24 Jan 2020

THE FORMER DEPUTY first minister of Northern Ireland and civil rights campaigner Seamus Mallon has died.

The former deputy leader of the SDLP was 83.

In a statement, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Ireland has lost “one of its most fierce champions for justice, equality and peace”.

Mallon was a campaigner during the civil rights movement and the SDLP in the 1960s and would play a key role in the peace process culminating with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

He served in the role of deputy first minister in the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive alongside Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble who held the role of first minister from 1998 to 2001.

Eastwood described Mallon this evening as 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,” he said. 

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.

Former US President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, called Mallon a “hero of the peace process in Northern Ireland” in a touching tribute on Friday.

He said: “Hillary and l are saddened by the passing of Seamus Mallon, a hero of the peace process in Northern Ireland and a profoundly good man.

“From his earliest entry into politics, Seamus never wavered from his vision for a shared future where neighbours of all faiths could live in dignity—or from the belief he shared with John Hume and the entire SDLP that nonviolence was the only way to reach that goal.

“As his party’s chief negotiator in the talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement, he was respected by all parties for his intelligence and integrity, his candour and convictions.”

In Mallon’s autobiography, A Shared Home Place, which was published last year, he wrote about his continuing belief in moving Northern Ireland away from the bloodshed of the 1970s and 1980s. “I am fortunate and honoured to have been an active participant in some of those changes,” he wrote.

“As I prepare to take my leave of our shared home place, I find comfort in an old Greek proverb: ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit’.”

In a statement this evening, Pat Hume, wife of John Hume said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of our dear friend Seamus Mallon.

“History will remember Seamus as one of the great Irish patriots and peacemakers.

“He was a man of huge strength and courage, who stood with John for many years in the fight for justice, peace and reconciliation on this island.

“Seamus was fearless in his condemnation of violence regardless of its source and was a rock of integrity throughout his career which spanned some of our most difficult days.

“His clarity, insight and political nous sustained the SDLP, often during periods while John was away, and were a source of inspiration not only at home but throughout the world.

Reacting this evening, President Michael D Higgins said he was saddened by the news.

“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,” the president said.

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.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was a tireless champion of an inclusive Ireland while Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described Mallon as a “truly great Irishman”. 

“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 said. 

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