Tributes have been paid following the death of Seamus Mallon, the former SDLP deputy leader and deputy First Minister who was closely involved in the peace process of the 1990s.
Mr Mallon died this evening, Friday January 24. He had been suffering from an illness for some time.
A bitter opponent of Irish republicanism, he was also disliked by many unionists because of his criticism of sectarianism and discrimination.
His relationship with party leader John Hume was also strained, and when he later became deputy First Minister at Stormont, he had a difficult relationship with the then First Minister, David Trimble. They were dubbed a political “odd couple”.
He will be remembered for an incisive turn of phrase, delivered with a visceral gravitas.
Mary Lou McDonald said she was saddened to learn of the death.
“Seamus will be remembered for his contribution to Irish politics over many decades as the SDLP deputy leader and the key role he played in achieving the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.
“My thoughts and condolences are with his family and colleagues at this sad and difficult time.”
British PM Tony Blair said Mr Mallon was “one of the most important architects of peace in Northern Ireland”.
“Brave, blunt, often prepared to swim against the tide if he felt it right, he was someone deeply respected and admired across the troubled landscape of Irish politics,” he tweeted.
A statement on behalf of John Hume and his wife Pat, paid warm tribute to their “dear friend”.
“Men like Seamus Mallon don’t come along too often, we should for grateful for his work in our time and cherish his legacy and preserve his values by never giving up on standing up for what is right, standing tall against prejudice and injustice and standing for making Ireland a country of peace and partnership,” the statement said.
“He was a man of huge strength and courage, who stood with John for many years in the fight for justice, peace and reconciliation on this island.”
The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Mr Mallon as a “force of nature”.
“I joined the SDLP because of people like Seamus Mallon. His absolute opposition to the murder and maiming of our neighbours, his immense work to reform policing and deliver a new Police Service that could command the support of our entire community and his unrelenting commitment to making this a place we can all call home inspired so many young SDLP members,” he said.
“Throughout my political life, Seamus was a constant source of guidance, advice and, when needed, some robust critical reflection. His support has been an immense source of personal pride. I hope that I’ve done him proud in return.”
The DUP’s First Minister Arlene Foster said she was “very sorry” to learn of Mr Mallon’s passing, while Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Mr Mallon was “a significant political figure who made a huge contribution to the politics of peace and the Good Friday Agreement”.
“His mark on our history is indelible. I send my sympathy to his family, friends and political colleagues who will feel his loss deeply at this very sad time.”