Tuesday 25 June 2019

Hume didn't give 'two balls of roasted snow' for my advice, reveals Mallon

Clashed: Seamus Mallon (left) and John Hume in July 2001. Photo: AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Clashed: Seamus Mallon (left) and John Hume in July 2001. Photo: AP Photo/Alastair Grant

Andrew Lynch

Former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon has revealed that John Hume told him he didn't give "two balls of roasted snow" about his advice.

Writing in his newly published memoir, 'A Shared Home Place', Mr Mallon (82) disclosed that he and the party's leader often clashed over strategy during the Northern Ireland peace process.

He describes Mr Hume as "a remarkable genius, egocentric and very resistant to criticism", who often failed to keep colleagues informed.

"He much preferred working on his own. For such a gregarious man, John was very much a loner in his political life."

Mr Mallon had serious reservations about Mr Hume's talks with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in the early 1990s and warned that they were "bypassing democratic procedures". He correctly predicted that bringing Sinn Féin into the political process would do the SDLP enormous damage.

"Hume thought the opposite: he emphatically believed it would benefit our party. When I expressed a contrary opinion, I recall his exact words. 'I don't give two balls of roasted snow for what you think'."

Mr Mallon served Mr Hume as deputy leader from 1979 to 2001. Mr Mallon remembers Mr Hume "caught me by the cuff" and said: "This deputy first minister thing - you're going to have to do it because the doctors have told me I shouldn't." However, Mr Mallon believes that other factors were also at play. "He was the vision man; I was the negotiator."

Mr Mallon believed that Mr Hume and others gave Sinn Féin far too much leeway over the decommissioning of IRA weapons. He includes the current Fine Gael European election candidate Mark Durkan in his criticism of the SDLP's failure to resist being marginalised by the then British prime minister Tony Blair.

Mr Mallon also recounts that during the Good Friday Agreement talks, Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam felt excluded and referred to herself as "Her Majesty's tea lady".

After a deal had been reached, he recalls: "The door opened and what appeared to be a sleepwalking Mo Mowlam, shoeless as usual, came in looking like Lady Macbeth.

"She sat down beside me, put her head on my shoulder and went to sleep… A few minutes later she lifted her head and in pure schoolgirl English exclaimed, 'F***ing brill, Seamus' and went back to sleep again. I think I may have been in tears at that point."

Despite his differences with Mr Hume, Mr Mallon concludes the Nobel Peace Prize winner has earned a place in history. "There is a greatness about John's political life, what he did and what he helped to change," he writes.

"I would rank him among the great leaders of Irish constitutional nationalism, men like Daniel O'Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell."

'A Shared Home Place' is co-written by Andy Pollak and published by Lilliput Press

Irish Independent

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