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It is an honour for me to pay my respects to the family of Séamus Mallon, who passed away last Friday. Is mór an onóir domh ómós a thabhairt do chlann Séamus Mallon ar a bhás Dé hAoine. Frequently in the Assembly, we focus on our differences as political opponents in a way that disguises the underlying respect we have for those who put themselves forward to seek to improve our society. We have an opportunity to demonstrate that respect today as we express our condolences on the passing of the former deputy First Minister, Séamus Mallon.
I said on Friday evening that Séamus Mallon was a towering figure in our politics. That was clear before the Assembly was established. He had already demonstrated his commitment to public service as a school principal but was then motivated to fight against injustice in the political arena in the civil rights era of the day and as a long-standing deputy leader of his party. In the Chamber, we should also recognise his record as a parliamentarian of distinction, whether in the Assembly, Westminster or Seanad Éireann. That reputation was built partly on his personality. He certainly was his own man, with strongly held views, but he expressed them passionately, using his talent for a pithy turn of phrase and his dry wit.
There are only nine of us remaining in the current Assembly who were elected alongside Séamus in the first Assembly in 1998. From the perspective of recent political difficulties, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of how far we have come, but, when you look back to political relationships in the Chamber in 1998, we have travelled a significant distance. It was a challenging time to become one of the first holders of the Office of First Minister and deputy First Minister with responsibility for leading the institutions, but he was held in high regard nonetheless as a straight talker and a man of integrity.
When you look back at the Hansard reports of those early days, there were two themes that he highlighted that remain particularly relevant today. First, he knew that diversity of political opinion could be a source of animosity but that being inclusive could offer huge potential if a way could be found to work together. Secondly, he was clear that debates and legislation might set a lead but that it is mindsets and attitudes in the community and in the streets that are central to taking us all forward.
In 1998, Séamus Mallon and David Trimble welcomed Bill Clinton to the Waterfront Hall. In his address, Séamus set out that the road to the future is always under construction. In recent years, he made no secret of his personal frustration that greater progress had not been made, but developments over recent weeks give us a chance to continue along that road.
This afternoon, we recognise the huge political contribution made by Séamus Mallon, and I give my condolences to his party colleagues in the SDLP. However, we are, of course, mindful that a family is in mourning. Family was important to Séamus Mallon, and one could not fail to have been moved by his account of putting the care of his wife, Gertrude, above seeking the leadership of his party. So, as I conclude my remarks, I express the Assembly's sympathies to Séamus's daughter, Orla, his son-in-law, Mark, his granddaughter, Lara, and his sisters Maura, Jean and Kate. We hope that, in time, they can be comforted by happy memories and their pride in his legacy. Suaimhneas síoraí dá anam uasal. Eternal rest on his noble soul.
As is customary, I will now invite party leaders to speak for about five minutes to pay tribute to our late friend and colleague. I will then call Members as they rise in their places. I will not be imposing strict time constraints, but I encourage Members to be brief — they should speak for no more than three or four minutes, if they possibly can — to give time for as many as possible to speak in the hour allocated for tributes.
When the tributes have concluded, Members are welcome to join me in signing a book of condolence in the Great Hall. The book of condolence will be available for Members and staff to sign until the close of plenary business this evening. It will be open to the public from 10 am tomorrow until 5 pm on Friday.
The Assembly will now pay its own respects.
The recent history of Ireland, and particularly Northern Ireland, over the last 50 years is characterised by discrimination, division, conflict, violence and awful, senseless killings and bombings that only ever served to drive us all further apart. It is also characterised by dialogue, engagement, acknowledgement of difference and of legitimate coexisting identities, agreement and, ultimately, a political accommodation that has, difficulties and all, led us to where we all are today, which is representing all communities that live cheek by jowl in this region by being here in the House, where we all have a duty to serve those people.
Séamus Mallon was integral to all of what went on in this shared home place right up to the formation of this power-sharing Assembly. It is no exaggeration to say that, without him and his influence, we would not be here today and would not be able to extol his virtues in this very Chamber.
Séamus was there at Sunningdale in 1973. He was there at the Seanad in 1982. His support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 was, correctly, regarded as crucial. If Séamus had not deemed the landmark accord as a vehicle for extolling and advancing the position of nationalists in the North, you can be sure he would have publicly said just that, but he kept a long-term goal in mind and became a vocal supporter of the agreement.
He was in the House of Commons from 1986 to 2005, where he left a mark with his passionate oratory and in his diligent, persistent work on policing reform. He laid over 200 amendments, which were part of a personal and party crusade to deliver a policing and justice system to which we could all belong and support. Perhaps more than anything else, the policing and justice structures that exist today are Séamus Mallon's lasting and enduring legacy to life in this part of the world.
He was here. Séamus believed in this Assembly, in an Executive and in delivering good government for all our people. So when he became deputy First Minister in 1998, that was a role he embraced, even at times when he was not entirely comfortable. Along with David Trimble, he sent out a message that there was a new way to do politics here. Séamus and David were a pair with their own dynamic, and in spite of consistent external pressures, they did their best to deliver on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement when it was far from easy to do so.
He was here. It felt to us younger SDLP members and activists that he was always here and ever-present, like there was no beginning and no end to Séamus Mallon: that he just was.
At party conference time, he was always there, the very last to go to bed as he inspired a younger generation in song, poetry and recounting old stories. However, all of that came after the serious political discourse, and that, of course, is where Séamus excelled. When he said something, he meant it — no question — and, in politics, that is a wonderful legacy. No messing, no spin, no winking, no nodding: just tell it like it is — the Séamus Mallon way.
The Assembly owes a debt of gratitude to Séamus Mallon. I am pleased that he got to see the devolved institutions he helped to create restored, and I am pleased, on behalf of the SDLP, that we have this opportunity to comment on his life, his passing and his enormous contribution to politics here.
Séamus was a man of peace. He was a man of non-violence. He was a man of justice, fairness, truth and courage. You can be sure that the next generation of SDLP politicians will live by the Séamus Mallon mantra; that is in our DNA. However, all of us here, across all Benches, would do well to remember and live by Séamus's judgement of how we share this piece of land. As he laid out in his maiden speech in the House of Commons 34 years ago:
"We have two stark and clear choices. We can live together in generosity and compassion or we can continue to die in bitter disharmony."
I know which I choose, I know which Séamus Mallon chose, and I am for ever grateful that I got to stand on the shoulder of an Irish political giant.
I am personally filled with immense sadness that we will have no more visits in Markethill. I will miss his straight-talking, honest advice, but Séamus and all he stood for will continue to guide me and the SDLP family. At the requiem mass and celebration of his life today, we were fittingly reminded in the missalette of 'From The Canton of Expectation' by Seamus Heaney:
"To know there is one among us who never swerved from all his instincts told him was right action, who stood his ground in the indicative, whose boat will lift when the cloudburst happens."
I will sorely miss you, Séamus. We will greatly miss you, Séamus, and the country mourns your loss. Séamus, ár mbuíochas leat, a chara dhil.
First, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party, I pay my respects and give condolences to our SDLP colleagues. They will forgive me if my thoughts are principally today with Séamus's family. Of course, with Orla and her husband, Mark, their daughter, Lara, and with Séamus's sisters and the wider family.
I pay tribute to Séamus as a fellow member of a small band of politicians who have headed the shared office of OFMDFM, which is now the Executive Office, and recognise its distinct and unique challenges. As well as being Northern Ireland's original deputy First Minister, Séamus Mallon was a Member of Parliament for 19 years and his party's deputy leader for 22 years.
The climate he had to operate in, of course, was very different from the one we operate in today. There was no social media, less 24-hour news, but decades of murder and mayhem that, thankfully, we no longer have to deal with to anywhere near the same extent. He was seen by many in unionism as a more typical Irish nationalist than his long-term partner leading the SDLP, John Hume, yet perhaps viewed as more pragmatic and with a better understanding of unionists. That may have been as a result of the fact that he lived in Markethill with his unionist neighbours at every turn.
He was a fierce critic of violence, something which is much easier from the armchairs of BT9, the south side of Dublin or the shires of England, but Séamus Mallon had to walk daily amongst the gunmen and bombers he was calling out. He had to go back on to the streets of Newry and along the border to attend to his constituents, to campaign and to seek votes for himself and his party colleagues.
He saw council colleagues in Armagh who sat in the same chamber as him murdered, and he sought to attend every funeral of those in his constituency who died in the Troubles; sometimes, when he was far from welcome. He recognised that nationalism needed to have confidence in and support policing.
He did not mince his words about the failings that he saw, often to the frustration of many hard-working, professional police officers.
Séamus Mallon, who had an interest in plays and amateur dramatics, became a commanding orator with a presence in the Chamber. He was an effective communicator, valued by journalists for his quips and one-liners, and, of course, a key negotiator for the SDLP. He could be thran, but he could also be very thoughtful. He was committed to his local area and to where he had been brought up. That was reflected in his recent memoir, published last year, which contains much of his experience. It does not dwell on the past but offers insights and advice for the future.
Whilst 100% in favour of Irish unity, he knew that it could not be forced on people. He knew of the consequences that come from wafer-thin majorities. He saw the outworkings of a close Brexit vote and the polarising effect that that had here and in Great Britain: to make a success of constitutional change would require sufficient consensus.
"The two cathedrals of the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church look across at each other in the city of Armagh. Just as the bells tolled in the new year I saw the obscenity of two policemen being blown to smithereens ... We have two stark and clear choices. We can live together in generosity and compassion or we can continue to die in bitter disharmony ... Are we to move into the new century with a millstone of blood, as it were, hanging around our necks, with a millstone of division and sectarian bickering, with the daily catalogue of threats of violence and death? Or are we to create a new vision for a new century ... on the basis of agreement and reconciliation ...?".
In closing, Séamus made it clear that he would pursue his objectives by:
"peaceful, democratic, constitutional and political means ... on the Floor of the House, or on the floor of whatever other forum is available to me ... in such a way that will not cost one drop of blood and will not remove anyone's self-respect for him."
Some of those questions and challenges from Séamus's maiden speech in 1986 remain unfulfilled today. The restoration of a Northern Ireland Government and fully functioning institutions provides us with the opportunity to address them. Northern Ireland and its leaders must carry forward that vision, building a shared society in which everyone has a stake and feels at home and working together in the interests of all our people.
Finally, on the day on which we pay tributes and remember Séamus Mallon, I also acknowledge that this is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In that camp alone, one million Jews were put to death because of their faith, and six million Jews were killed overall. The scale of that hideous extermination must always be remembered on this Holocaust Remembrance Day. I stand with the Jewish people across the world as they face ongoing anti-Semitic abuse today, and I remember the horror of the Holocaust.
I join colleagues across the House in conveying my sympathy and that of Sinn Féin to the family and friends of the late Séamus Mallon, whose requiem Mass we celebrated in Markethill earlier today. In particular, I offer my condolences to Séamus's daughter, Orla; his son-in-law, Mark; and his beautiful wee granddaughter, Lara, who played her part in making the funeral Mass a very beautiful and fitting tribute to her granda.
The loss of Séamus Mallon is a significant moment in the history of this island, but it is, first and foremost, a devastating loss for his family, his friends and his colleagues in the SDLP, for whom he was a close and special figure. I know that he was a very valued mentor to Nichola and Colum. Our thoughts are with all of you today and with Séamus's family.
I, personally, did not know Séamus very well, but I certainly knew of his reputation as deputy leader of the SDLP for many years and the party's chief negotiator during the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, to which he clearly made a huge contribution, not only in reaching that historic agreement but in leading the new Executive as deputy First Minister and joint head of Government. Séamus served not only as a Minister and a Member of the Legislative Assembly but as an MP at Westminster and a senator in Leinster House. He had an electoral record that we in the Chamber can only admire. In each of those roles, he used his voice to articulate the interests, the views and the feelings of the nationalist community in the North for over 40 years.
The SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, has, in recent days, described Séamus as a force of nature: that is very apt. Séamus has left a legacy of hard work and commitment to creating a better society and a better Ireland. He has left an indelible print on the politics in Ireland. Despite our different political outlooks and paths challenging the British Government's presence and the causes of division and partition in Ireland, there is no doubt that Séamus and his friend John Hume helped to open up the prospects for peaceful change. We put aside party differences to effect real change for the people of our country, and I put on record our recognition of and respect for the critical role played by both men and many others at that time to bring about the peace process and recognise the courage, generosity and risks taken by them both to achieve peace here in Ireland.
Séamus led a full political life in the service of the Irish people. Right into his eighties, he was making his voice heard, and, even if we did not always agree, he made sure that we heard it and that we were listening. As we mourn his passing, let those of us in the House who have formed the new Executive cooperate in every way that we can to fulfil the promise of the Good Friday Agreement to a new generation. In that way, Séamus's contribution will, I hope, have everlasting value and never be forgotten. May he rest in peace.
I rise to pay my respects and offer my sympathies to Orla and the wider Mallon family, and may I then add my own words and those of the Ulster Unionist Party to commemorate the life of a great Irishman: Séamus Mallon?
Séamus and our then leader, David Trimble, did much to see Northern Ireland emerge from the destructive and evil days of the Troubles, and, while David saw the recognition of the Nobel Prize, Séamus, who probably deserved it as much as his leader, John Hume, has only latterly been recognised for the inspirational leader and politician that he was; indeed, as one of my predecessors, Lord Empey, said today, there was no doubt that, if John Hume was the SDLP's ideas man, Séamus was the person to turn those ideas into practice and workable solutions.
I first came to know Séamus long before I got into politics through my involvement in a range of North/South and east-west bodies. He was always courteous but forthright in his views, and he had a fierce determination to get his point across. When I became involved in politics, he was always supportive, although a bit bemused at why I would wish to get involved. As he said himself, it was catch-22: you had to be mad to want to be a politician, but, if nobody did it, where would we be?
What always struck me about Séamus was his integrity, his courage and his abhorrence of all forms of violence. As he himself wrote:
"I have mentioned my neighbour 'Jack Adams', a good man who couldn't do enough for you, but who was shot dead by the IRA because he felt he was doing his duty by joining the RUC reserve. That dehumanizing of individuals, of a community, so they could be killed just for wearing a police or UDR uniform — that is what I will not support. That man and his family had their home here for four hundred years, but he had to be killed because the IRA's little Green Book said so. The awfulness and nihilism of that is what I am fundamentally opposed to. I believe that thirty years of violence has meant the republican movement has shot and bombed itself out of the vital process of persuading people for Irish unity."
While Séamus had a very different view of the future of Northern Ireland from that of the Ulster Unionist Party, we are the first to recognise that he was a statesman of the first order, a politician with that very rare quality of steadfast integrity and someone who, along with David Trimble, believed that only by truly working together in a spirit of partnership could we make this place truly be 'A Shared Home Place'. Maybe, Mr Speaker, it could be his lasting legacy that we current political leaders draw inspiration from his words and decide, once and for all, that power-sharing, rather than power division, should be the model we seek to achieve and make this truly a place to cherish.
I add my condolences to the Mallon family, particularly to Orla, his son-in-law, Mark, and his granddaughter, Lara, and the wider family circle. I also extend sympathies to his friends and colleagues in the SDLP. As a role model for generous leadership, you can have no better.
Whilst those closest to him will feel his passing most acutely, all of us in politics — indeed, all of us in Northern Ireland — are the richer for his life and the poorer for his passing. He was a man for whom fairness and integrity were not just political ambitions but part of his DNA. His commitment to non-violence and civil rights was unwavering and uncompromising. I never had the privilege of serving with him in this Chamber — he retired the year I was elected — but I had the pleasure in recent years of sharing platforms with him on various occasions, and he had lost none of his wisdom or wit which made him such a formidable politician and such an admirable man.
While I never served here with him, I owe to him and other courageous leaders like him my opportunity to do so and to live the second half of my life in considerably more peaceful times than the first half. For that, I and, I believe, all of us owe him personally an enormous debt of gratitude. Our best and most fitting tribute to him is to work together to deliver on the promise of 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement, which was his gift to us.
We in the Green Party also extend our condolences to our SDLP colleagues in the Chamber and the wider SDLP family and, of course, to Séamus's daughter, Orla, and to his wider family. The death of a husband, father and brother is a painful event, and I wish them the strength needed for the times ahead.
Séamus was a giant in the political arena. He was a giant figure, but he came from a different political era: that of the civil rights movement. For me, he was a recognisable face on my television during my younger years. I did not have the opportunity to meet or work with him, but, certainly, his courage and willingness to take risks were his central tenets, allowing us all to be here today in the Chamber. We should all be in no doubt of that and be thankful for it and for the fact that it has allowed us to move on. His legacy will be long remembered, and we can go far in strengthening his work and his tenacity by continuing to forge a peaceful and reconciled future for all across Northern Ireland.
I readily join in the condolences to the late Séamus Mallon's daughter and his wider family. No doubt, as in all deaths, these are very difficult times, and the thoughts and prayers of many of us are with them. I extend the same sympathy to his political family, the SDLP, where he was such a giant figure and a mentor to many. He will, no doubt, be long and sadly missed in those quarters.
Séamus Mallon, as a constitutional nationalist, was someone whom I could respect, no matter how much I disagreed with some of the things he had to say. Some of those things I did disagree with — his denigrating of the UDR, for example — but the fact that he advocated only constitutional means and explicitly condemned without equivocation terrorist violence earned him respect across the community. Sadly, the late Séamus Mallon's repudiation of IRA terrorism has been replicated by only one of his successors in the office of deputy First Minister, namely Mark Durkan.
That, of course, is a pointer to the evolving of these institutions, that he helped to shape, and their evolution in a retrograde direction.
For all his eminence as an orator and as a straight-talking, even hard-hitting, politician, at the end of it all, he appears to have been, and was, a wholly devoted family man. The love and devotion that he committed to his late wife is well documented and much respected and speaks greatly to the strength and the character of the man. He, too, of course, is unlikely to be forgotten, nor should he be forgotten, in political circles, because he was a politician faithful to his beliefs. Thank you.
I just want to say a few brief words and to put on the record, on behalf of myself and People Before Profit, my sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Séamus Mallon, to his colleagues in the SDLP and to everyone who knew him. Obviously, he was active in politics here for a long time, many years, and today there is a large amount of grieving and loss across our community. I rise to put my thoughts with all the people who are grieving today.
Séamus Mallon would not have claimed to be impartial. He extolled his beliefs clearly and honestly. He was an Irish republican in the truest form. Mr Mallon, however, had capacity and heart to recognise that others did not necessarily share his beliefs, and rather than seek to undermine their views from the outset, he sought to understand and respect. He was empathetic and looked for humanity: the greatest, yet rarest, qualities of political leadership.
I did not know Mr Mallon, but recently I was taken by words that he said regarding unionism:
"Irish republicanism ... has to look into the unionist heart as well as the unionist mind."
I have never heard that before, and in saying so, he did not dismiss my belief, he did not disparage an important part of who I am, nor did he wrongly characterise me because I did not agree with him. Rather, he wanted to know me, and I appreciate that. Indeed, I believe it is the fundamental principle of the Good Friday Agreement: not to be neutral if you are not, not to deny who we are, but rather embrace ourselves and each other, learn, live and love together.
I can only speak for myself, but certainly in this unionist heart and this unionist mind, are people. I expect from much of what has been said about Séamus Mallon that is what we would find in his heart and mind too: different but the same.
I wish to express my sincere condolences to Mr Mallon's family, friends and all those who knew him, in particular, members of the Social, Democratic and Labour Party. Thank you.
My sincere sympathies are with Orla and Mark and with Séamus Mallon's little princess, Lara. Also his sisters Jean, Kate and Moira, and his wider family, friends and neighbours. Of course, they are with Marie Harte, who spent many years caring for Séamus and for Gertrude, who passed away in recent years, and they are with Brendan his gardener who he spent many hours with in his greenhouse.
I want to pay tribute to and thank the players and members of O'Donovan Rossa GFC, Mullabrack, the community of Markethill, the Mid Armagh branch of the SDLP and Séamus Mallon's family, friends and neighbours who volunteered an extraordinary effort to ensure a beautiful and fitting farewell.
It is questionable whether all of us would be here today if it were not for the work of Séamus Mallon. Last night, Tommy Sands played a moving lament for Séamus at his wake. Tommy called him the last of the great Irish chieftains. Having experienced what he called the life-waste and spirit-waste of violence in the bloodstained 1970s and 1980s, he had a different dream. His was a dream of justice, peace and reconciliation, and he played a lead role in bringing justice, peace and reconciliation to our shared home place. Séamus said:
"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.'"
What trees has Séamus Mallon planted? I measc na naomh go raibh sé.
I want to extend my condolences and sympathies to Orla, Mark, Lara, Séamus's sisters and extended family, and to share the loss of the SDLP. We all know the great legacy that Séamus Mallon has left. It is up to all of us, but, more importantly, to the SDLP, to continue that legacy.
Being a representative of the same constituency, on occasion, I would bump into Séamus and had the odd robust conversation with him. He was a giant of a man and one you could actually learn from. Over the weekend, when I talked to some constituents, it was clear that they hold him in great esteem. On behalf of the constituents I represent I can say that Mr Mallon was one of those people who will not be forgotten by them.
I also want to extend words from Mullabrack GFC, who did a job today looking after the funeral arrangements and everything else for the Mallon family. Those people have asked me to speak on their behalf, extend their thanks and recognise the contribution that Séamus Mallon made to the Good Friday Agreement and to his party. I just want to recognise his contribution.
Mr Speaker, in your introduction, you said that there were only nine Members left from the original Assembly. Hands up: I am one of the nine. It is with a great deal of pride and emotion that I rise to speak. I served with Séamus Mallon in the best of times and the worst of times: the best of times being when the people of Northern Ireland were able to create a power-sharing Executive in 1998 and, of course, the worst being the collapse of that Assembly a few years later.
At all times, Séamus was a statesman. He was a true and personal friend to me, but he was a friend to many other people, from all political parties, in the Assembly at that time. Yes, the SDLP has lost one of the best, but I believe that everyone has experienced a sense of loss that is not really felt every day. Now, the best tribute that we can make to Séamus is to finish the work that he began. Lest we forget: that work is in this Chamber. I know that Séamus was very happy that the Assembly agreed to sit again. Let us honour one of the greatest Irishmen who ever lived. Let us take his advice and never collapse politics again to create the risk that the men of violence may fill a vacuum that was not intended. That is important. That would be the greatest tribute we could pay, and I believe we will. The House has no longer just the legacy of unionism of the past — Craigavon and all that. Séamus is very much the legacy of the House in modern times, so let us honour and respect him. Let us adopt and protect that legacy with clarity and a commitment to emulate his deeply held conviction that we must move on together. I applaud the First Minister for saying that many times in recent times, and I hope everyone in the House is listening.
Séamus has left the stage. May he rest in peace, and may more than his pictures hang on the walls of this Building. Let us take his inspiration and legacy, and let us set about the difficult times ahead together in partnership. Séamus Mallon taught me to respect others. Let that be the experience of everyone in the House.
I first encountered Séamus Mallon about 35 years ago. I was the new presenter of 'Good Morning Ulster' on BBC Radio; he was a recently installed Member of Parliament. To interview Séamus Mallon was challenging. Here was a man who knew his brief thoroughly, knew his mind unquestionably and knew exactly how to express an opinion. Oh, did he know how to express an opinion. I was amazed he was still doing it in his 80s. Two years ago, I was at Queen's University watching him on a panel marking the 20th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. In fact, he was not on the panel; he was dominating that panel. He was head and shoulders above the rest, with his angry analysis of the missed opportunities and what had to come next. I regret the missed opportunity of not visiting him more often in Markethill. The last time was to discuss his memoir, 'A Shared Home Place', and I commend it to anybody who has not read it.
Of course, in between times, there was his great work as a negotiator and a peacemaker. Let us not underestimate the thousands, in fact, the tens of thousands, of proud nationalists who wanted unity by consent and would never for a millisecond contemplate the use of violence. Those people looked to Séamus Mallon, and, in 1998, I have no doubt that there was a group of people who said, "If it is good enough for Séamus Mallon, it is good enough for me".
I have a true story, if I may, Mr Speaker, but I have to change one word to stay on the right side of parliamentary language
because he was a bit of a rascal. One morning I was told I had to interview him on 'Good Morning Ulster', and I looked at the subject matter and formed my strategy, which was very simple: I was going to wind him up. I was going to get a rise out of Séamus Mallon, but hard as I tried, and I gave it my best shots, he would not rise to the occasion. So, the next day, most unusually, I discovered that the SDLP was putting Séamus Mallon up as its spokesperson two days in a row. Just before we went live, the producer came into the studio and said, "Look, I do not want this to alter how you are planning to do this interview, and I do not know what happened between you and Séamus Mallon yesterday morning, but when I got him up on the phone there, the first thing he said to me was, 'If that ... fellow tries to wind me up again today, I am going to do him'".
Well, Mr Speaker, I did not, he did, and I loved him for it.
First, let me thank everybody in the House who has spoken so far and for the kind words of comfort that have been extended to us, Séamus's SDLP colleagues. It means a lot on the day it is. I join them in offering my sincerest condolences to Orla, his daughter, Mark, his son-in-law, and princess Lara, as she has become known to us in recent times, but also to his sisters Maura, Jean and Kate and to Marie Harte, who, I understand, was every bit the family member in caring for Séamus throughout his illness.
Séamus's life's work has proved that the politics of coming together is the only type of politics that will ever benefit the people whom we represent. His legacy of peacemaking is not one that we should simply honour and celebrate; it goes further. It sets a standard for us all to live by and a standard that we all should aspire to. Séamus Mallon played his part in making this place, which we all call "a shared home", a better place. I thank him for that.
Séamus was a good man — a man I was honoured to call my friend — and I thank him for all his efforts over the years in steering me. I was the recipient on occasion of the stare over the glasses that was referred to today, and it was always meant with good intent. We will miss him terribly. Thank you, Séamus, for everything. May you rest in peace.
I join colleagues in thanking all of you who took time from your very busy diaries to attend Séamus's funeral service. It was very much appreciated.
Séamus was a man whom I was always delighted to listen to, because I never had to guess what he meant. I always knew exactly what he was saying. I am sure that many of us have been with politicians and other people and thought, "What did he really say? What did he mean by that?". You never had to worry about that. You got it straight, and I like straight talking.
We all know that Séamus liked a little flutter, and I hope that our ability to work together here in partnership, creating a legacy of peace, partnership and power-sharing, will prove wrong many of the pundits who seek to degrade politics every day. Our behaviour does not always inspire, but I found it very encouraging to hear people, including the archbishop, talking today about the noble vocation of politics. We should all take heart from that, because it is about service to the community. It was people like Séamus Mallon and that want to service and to help my neighbour that got me into politics, and I am sure that it is the same for many, if not all, of you.
All Members will recall from the recent past the terrible flags protest. One of the things that stood out for me was when Séamus Mallon chastised a lot of people by saying, "Stop poking each other in the eye". Perhaps, when we go to speak in the future or when we want to make a contribution, we will hear that voice and moderate our language. We will not always agree. We will see things differently, and we will have to articulate our viewpoints, but we should go from the base point of not poking each other in the eye.
My colleagues have thanked many who contributed to the organisation of the funeral service, but I place on record our party's gratitude to the Police Service for its contribution. They worked very hard over the weekend and today, on what was a bitterly cold day.
I was not aware whether there was a list or whether we had to rise in our seat, but I have risen, so here we are.
I did not know Séamus Mallon personally, although, perhaps, we belong to the same generation, going by age at least. I met him just once. It was at the funeral of one of our Banbridge councillors, Sheila McQuade, and his presence was very much appreciated at that time. Attendance at the funerals of victims of violence was very important to him, and he made a point of attending all of them in his constituency. That was surely a statement of his opposition to violence — implacable opposition to violence — from which he never wavered. My predecessor in Lagan Valley, the late and much-missed Seamus Close, knew him very well and spoke very fondly of him. Even though they had political differences at times, there was a good measure of personal friendship and respect between them.
That word "respect" has been much used in recent days, in how Séamus Mallon treated others and in their attitude to him. People from across the political spectrum have commented over the weekend and today about his honesty, his straight talking and his negotiating skills, which were used to such good effect over the years, as we all know. His partnership with John Hume was a formidable one. I am sure that it is no exaggeration to say that, without them, the Good Friday Agreement and, perhaps, other agreements might never have happened. Their legacy and that of others whom I could mention, such as David Trimble, Dr Paisley and Gerry Adams, is demonstrated by the fact that we are able to stand here today and talk about Séamus in an Assembly that has been reconstituted. I totally agree with what John Dallat said: we cannot let the opportunity pass this time. He was, of course, a committed nationalist, but, at the same time, he was a realistic one who realised that it was necessary to reach out to unionists and that there was no point in just banging a drum for a united Ireland. He appreciated the need for consent.
I join others in sending my sympathy and condolences to his family circle and to his SDLP colleagues, who must be feeling it today. They have lost a great man who, I understand, was still providing insight and sound advice until very recently. I heard Colum Eastwood this morning on the radio pass a comment along the lines that, when you were talking to Séamus, it was not always easy to tell whether you were getting advice or a telling-off, but that is the nature of straight talking. Maybe we need more of that in this place. May he rest in peace.
I follow on from the tributes that have been made in the House and thank our colleagues across the Chamber for their very sincere tributes to the memory of a great man. We do feel it today. We have felt it since Friday. It is a very sore and painful point for us, because we know fully the commitment, dedication and life work that Séamus put in to bringing about these institutions, paving the path to peace and the Good Friday Agreement. He used his relationship with Hume to bring about a better future for everyone in this place. I speak as a member of the new generation of the SDLP. I am surrounded by many on these Benches who, in more recent years, have been lucky to enjoy the peace — the imperfect peace — that we have thanks to the vision and life work of Séamus Mallon.
I sat today in Mass and listened to the amazing tribute to his life. He had a profound influence on the life of so many of us. He is certainly a reason that I joined the SDLP. He is a reason that I love the SDLP. He is also a reason that I and others will be able to work and live together, side by side, across Northern Ireland. We will never see the like of Séamus Mallon again. He was a truly inspirational man and a man of peace and integrity. He was a man who was extremely blunt. I heard Dolores say that she liked straight-talkers: well, Dolores, as many will know, is quite a blunt instrument herself at times.
I felt that it was important to say a few words and to express my sincerest condolences to Orla, his son-in-law, Mark, and his little granddaughter, Lara, whom he talked about so often. He was a family man. He cared very deeply for them and loved spending time with them.
John Dallat struck a very strong chord with me in his contribution and tribute to Séamus. We have so much to learn from the man who sat on these Benches some years before us, working together and reaching out for the common good of everyone here. This is 'A Shared Home Place'. I put on record my heartfelt sympathies to Séamus's family and friends and to the entire constituency of Newry and Armagh, which will feel the pain of this loss very much. I thank the Members of this House. Today, as I stood waiting for Séamus's remains to come to the church, I was met by the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, and I watched as they walked down the road together. Today, I can say that I think that there is some hope for this place and for the future. I thank you for that very strong symbol you showed today. I am sure that Séamus is smiling down saying, "God, I can bring them together."
Thank you to everyone, those who attended and paid tribute. May he rest in peace.
This weekend, I had business in Connemara, in a little town called Clifden. Clifden is the old seat of the British in the west of Ireland; it is an absolutely beautiful little place. During the summer, Séamus went down to open the arts festival there. As I walked around the town over the weekend, so many people came up to me. They had fond memories of him. Yesterday, I rang my colleague Justin McNulty to try to convey that message on, but I was lucky enough when I got to the house this morning. When we arrived at the house in Mullaghbrack, it reminded me so much of where I come from: a little place outside Moira, Kilwarlin. That is also a predominantly unionist constituency. People here have spoken about the coming together of that community, but all of them came together to give him a fitting send-off in that place. Farmers opened up their fields; locals came out; the GAA club came out; and neighbours of Séamus, regardless of their religion, were there to help them. That fits into my feeling of this one community that we all are. I am very lucky and privileged to be here today.
Unfortunately, when you come after so many other Members, you maybe lose the chance to say something, but I, like Daniel, noticed our First Minister and our deputy First Minister — Conor, our Finance Minister, was also with them — down there today. That filled me full of hope. It reminded me of the story of that terrible incident — I do not really want to speak about it — when my neighbour, David Trimble, along with Séamus Mallon, walked down through Poyntzpass to the scene of the murder of those two young friends. I thought again what a gesture we had today. Séamus always filled me with this word, "Hope": today, I was filled with hope when I saw our First Minister and our deputy First Minister walking down that country loanin, for want of a better word, on the crossroads at Mullaghbrack. For that, I was glad to be at that service today. I rejoiced and felt uplifted to be there.
I also wish to pass on my sympathies to the Mallon family — to Orla, Mark and his little granddaughter — and to all my colleagues here who served with Séamus.
That concludes the tributes to former deputy First Minister Mr Seamus Mallon. I now propose, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 6.00 pm and invite Members to join me in signing a book of condolence.
The sitting was suspended at 5.28 pm and resumed at 6.10 pm.