President to attend memorial service in Johannesburg
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins will represent Ireland at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa next Tuesday.
Aras an Uachtarain last night confirmed that the President, along with other heads of state, will attend the State Memorial Service in the FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, where Mr Mandela appeared for the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore will attend on behalf of the Government.
President Higgins yesterday revealed his "great sadness" on hearing of the passing of Nelson Mandela, after visiting NUI Galway, where he was the first to sign a book of condolence opened in the college to the former South African leader.
"It was of course a moment of great sadness because even though he had been ill, and very seriously ill, and it might have been expected, the passing of Nelson Mandela was of immense significance, of course to his family and of course to the people of South Africa, but also to all those who had been inspired by the struggle of Nelson Mandela," he said.
President Higgins also recalled their last meeting at NUI Galway in 2003 when Mr Mandela received an honorary doctorate of law.
He also referenced Mr Mandela's visit in 1990, when he met with Dunnes Stores workers who went on strike over apartheid in the 1980s.
"You could see as well his capacity for emotional gratitude and compassion when he was speaking to these young women who had put the most valuable thing they had, their job, on the line and who often in wet and cold days and certainly without majority support for periods of time spent three years, simply because they were appalled at hearing the circumstances in which a person because of the colour of their skin was forced to work in an undemocratic regime," he added.
The Dunnes Stores workers who took to the picket lines are now set to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Discussions were continuing in government quarters last night but the arrangements are yet to be confirmed, a coalition source told the Irish Independent.
A spokesperson from Foreign Affairs said no final decision had been made about the funeral attendants, but government sources indicated every effort was being made to have the strikers at Mandela's funeral. Strikers Mary Manning, Veronica Munroe and Karen Gearon took to picket lines at Dunnes on Henry Street in Dublin in 1984, because they refused to handle South African goods.
"We should be there (at the funeral)," Ms Gearon said last night.
The group reunite at 5pm today to sign the book of condolence for their hero, who referred to them affectionately as his 'Irish girlfriends'.
Meanwhile, former President Mary McAleese has told of how her daughter was behind the "Ooh-Ah Paul McGrath" chant which greeted Nelson Mandela as he walked out to meet the Irish public during his visit in 1990 to receive the Freedom of Dublin.
Mrs McAleese (62) and her children were among the thousands who turned out to welcome Mr Mandela outside Dublin's Mansion House, on the same afternoon the Republic of Ireland soccer team returned to the capital after Italian '90.
The former president, who was in office from 1997 to 2011, admitted she had to persuade her three children to go to see Mandela instead of welcoming back Jack Charlton and his team.
"When he came out onto the podium at the Mansion House, my youngest daughter Sarah immediately started up the cheer 'Ooh Ah Paul McGrath', which was taken up by the crowd unfortunately.
"So many years later I told him that we took full responsibility for that event and he laughed heartily," she said.