Wednesday 24 January 2018

2016 might be the year to move on from the Good Friday Agreement

In May, the North's voters will elect the Stormont assembly, from which the executive is formed
In May, the North's voters will elect the Stormont assembly, from which the executive is formed
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

Seamus Mallon is this island's greatest living statesman. As deputy leader of the SDLP during the Troubles, he lived for decades with the daily risk of assassination. Despite the threat, there was no voice more calming in making the case for constitutionalism and against violence as a means of resolving divisions among the traditions on this island.

What really marks him out as a great man was his stance towards John Hume, who usually gets the most plaudits for persuading militant republicans to end their murder campaign. For all Hume's great determination and vision, he was, by every account, a difficult man to work with. If he was a great communicator of his message to external audiences, he generated suspicion within the SDLP by not always keeping his colleagues in the loop, as was underscored last week by the release of State papers from 1985 relating to the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

It is very possible that Mallon might have been a better leader of the SDLP in the 1980s and 1990s, yet he subsumed his own personal ambitions and never sought to unseat Hume. On the contrary, he worked tirelessly for party cohesion and always presented a united public front in support of his leader, and he did so despite frequent reports of Hume's sometimes dismissive attitude towards him and his senior colleagues.

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