Former Northern Ireland deputy first minister Seamus Mallon has died at the age of 83, hailed by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood as a “fierce champion of justice, equality and peace”.
Paying tribute to his party’s former deputy leader, Mr Eastwood said his life’s work had carved a pathway beyond the troubles of the past.
“Seamus Mallon was a force of nature,” he said.
“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.
Mr Eastwood added that he had 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," he said.
“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.”
VIDEO: Remembering Seamus Mallon
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to Seamus Mallon saying: “History will remember Seamus as an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, a committed peace builder and a tireless champion of an inclusive Ireland.”
Tánaiste Simon Coveney added that he made “an extraordinary contribution to politics and people on this island”.
“He was tough, intelligent and passionate, always working for peace and reconciliation,” 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.”
Men like Seamus Mallon don’t come along too often, we should for grateful for his work in our time and cherish his legacy and preserve his values by never giving up on standing up for what is right, standing tall against prejudice and injustice and standing for making Ireland a country of peace and partnership.
First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster said Seamus Mallon was “instrumental in bringing about peace for our people and that contribution should not go unrecognised”.
She noted: “As Seamus said: ‘We have two stark and clear choices. We can live together in generosity and compassion or we can continue to die in bitter disharmony’.”
Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “Seamus Mallon was a significant political figure who made a huge contribution to the politics of peace and the Good Friday Agreement.
“His mark on our history is indelible.”
A statement on behalf of former SDLP leader John Hume and his wife Pat said: “History will remember Seamus as one of the great Irish patriots and peacemakers.
“He 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.”
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said she was saddened by the news.
“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,” she said.
“My thoughts and condolences are with his family and colleagues at this sad and difficult time.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long said Seamus Mallon “not only played a pivotal role in negotiating the GFA, but civil rights and non-violence were in his DNA”.
She added: “His wisdom, wit and candour will be missed.”