PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins left for South Africa last night ahead of the memorial to Nelson Mandela. He was accompanied by his wife Sabina, three members of An Garda Siochana and the deputy secretary general to the President, Loughlin Quinn.
The Government is being represented by Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore, who travelled with three officials from his department.
One of the workers launched a scathing attack on the supermarket's former boss Ben Dunne after he paid a glowing tribute to Mandela.
The Dunnes strike was triggered in 1984 when 21-year-old cashier Mary Manning was suspended for refusing to handle goods bought from South Africa.
As she prepared to depart from Dublin Airport yesterday, one of the strikers, Karen Gearon (49), who now works in Tralee, Co Kerry, criticised Mr Dunne over his tribute to Mandela on the day of his death. Mr Dunne described him as a "fantastic man who stood up for his principles".
"I would have no respect for Ben Dunne whatsoever," Ms Gearon said.
"What he has said about Mr Mandela is very strange when you consider how we were treated at that time."
Among the strikers who assembled at Dublin Airport yesterday was Ms Manning, whose suspension in 1984 started the action.
The dispute started in the Henry Street Store when she refused to check through a grapefruit from South Africa.
Ms Manning, who now works as an office worker in Lucan, told the Irish Independent: "It is a great honour for us to go to the funeral of such a great man."
A street was named after her in Johannesburg.
Mr Dunne said he had total respect for the strikers and had apologised to them over the radio.
Meanwhile, one woman said a handwritten note from Mandela, thanking her for her kindness, was now one of her most treasured possessions.
Mona Conway, of Rathfarnham, Dublin, was working as treatment manager at the spa in the K Club in 2000 when she received a phone call asking if she could treat a VIP at a house in Kildare.
An hour later, she heard footsteps in the hallway and a door opened and Mandela appeared. Following his treatment, Mandela asked Mona if she had a piece of paper.
"He held out the note to me and shook my hand. It was only after he left the room that I read the note which said, 'To Mona, best wishes to a wonderful young lady, Mandela'. It is a note I treasure."
Meanwhile, the South African Ambassador to Ireland, Azwindini Jeremiah Ndou, spoke at an event yesterday held by the Irish branch of the ANC at the AFM Praise Tabernacle Methodist Church on St Michan's Street, Dublin, where he encouraged the congregation to live in the spirit of Mandela's legacy.
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