- Feb 27, 2010
A giant of Ireland politics just passed away at the age of 83.
Along with John Hume, Mallon held the line for Constitutional Nationalism over the long agony of the Troubles, and was a key Architect of the Good Friday Agreement. They were very much a duo. Hume was the ideas man, Mallon his foil. In Irish terms, Hume leaned towards Fine Gael, Mallon towards Fianna Fail. Yet, Mallon was no narrow nationalist. He lived among a predominantly Unionist community, and that easy way with "the other tradition" greatly facilitated his partnership with David Trimble in the first NI Executive... deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland from 1998 to 2001 and Deputy Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party from 1979 to 2001.
At least he lived to see the party he had served (the SDLP) regain a Westminister seat, though now a minority party in the nationalist community, and see the Northern Ireland Executive back in place after a long hiatus. We hear this greatly brightened his last days, as his health worsened after the passing of his beloved wife Gertrude in 2016.
My memory of a trenchant and plain-spoken man was in an interview, in the grim 1980s, with a reporter who berated him that the SDLP had no "Advice Centres" in his constituency, whereas Sinn Fein were opening many. Mallon fixed the reporter with a beady stare, and said "I had an office, and it was burned out. I had another, and I was put out of it at the point of a gun. Now, my Advice Centre is my own home. And I do not need Ben Dunne* Advice Centres is my constituency"
(* Supermarket heir Ben Dunne had been kidnapped, and (it is said) ransomed for a large sum).
We may never see his like again. May we never need his like again so desperately.