THE death has been announced of the former Deputy First Minister, SDLP Deputy Leader and Newry & Armagh MP, Seamus Mallon.
The party said that it was “very saddened” by the death of the Markethill native.
Its leader, Colum Eastwood MP, said that Ireland has lost one of its most fierce champions for justice, equality and peace.
He added that Mr Mallon’s life's work carved a pathway beyond our troubled past and gave us all the opportunity to build a shared home on our island.
He 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.”
Mr Mallon was deputy first minister when Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble was first minister.
The pair were united against violence and in March 1998, they famously paid a joint visit to the families of Philip Allen, a Protestant, and Damien Trainor, a Catholic, following their murder in Poyntzpass.
In the short time since the announcement, tributes have flooded in for Mr Mallon. A former primary school principal, he began his political life as a councillor on Armagh District Council.
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, said, “With the death of Seamus Mallon the people of Armagh and Ireland have lost one of our most respected sons and bravest leaders.
“A person of global stature, Seamus was a county Armagh man through and through, and he gave his gifts unselfishly and tirelessly to serve the betterment of the whole community on this island, north and south.
“People sometimes speak of the 'noble vocation of politics'. Seamus was a shining example of someone who gave his life to that vocation and in the service of others. He will be remembered as a man of integrity and great courage who was not afraid to speak up or call it as it was – even at great personal risk. A man of strong faith, Seamus was calm, fair and principled, and always respectful of the rights of others.
“To his dying day Seamus Mallon remained a man of hope for a brighter future - a shared and respectful future where we all experience a sense of belonging. A fitting tribute to his legacy would be a renewed effort by all our political leaders and by all of us to build that “shared home place” which was Seamus’ vision and lifelong project.”
We will have more on this story as it develops on our website and coverage in Tuesday's edition of the Ulster Gazette.