BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Seamus Mallon, one of the key architects of the Irish peace process who fought to end decades of discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland, was, above all, a man of faith, said Archbishop Eamon Martin, primate of all Ireland.
Mallon, 83, who served as deputy first minister in the region’s first cross-community power-sharing government following the Northern Ireland peace accord, died Jan. 24. He was buried in his native County Armagh Jan. 27 at a Mass celebrated by Martin.
The archbishop described Mallon as “one of our most respected sons and bravest leaders.”
Mallon, a Catholic schoolteacher, first got involved in politics in the 1960s when he witnessed the discrimination Catholic high school graduates experienced in the region, particularly with regard to employment and public housing. At the time, most Catholics were not permitted to vote because they were not property owners.
Mallon was a key figure in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which campaigned for equality. Historians trace the roots of the violent conflict that gripped the region for 30 years to the violent repression by authorities of the civil rights movement, including an incident in 1972 known as Bloody Sunday, during which 14 unarmed marchers were shot dead by the army.
Mallon eventually was elected the region’s first deputy first minister in the power-sharing cross-community government representing both the Catholic and Protestant communities following the 1998 peace agreement.
Martin said Mallon “gave his gifts unselfishly and tirelessly to serve the betterment of the whole community on this island, North and South.”
“People sometimes speak of the ‘noble vocation of politics.’ Seamus was a shining example of someone who gave his life to that vocation and in the service of others. He will be remembered as a man of integrity and great courage who was not afraid to speak up or call it as it was — even at great personal risk. A man of strong faith, Seamus was calm, fair and principled, and always respectful of the rights of others,” Martin said.
The archbishop told mourners Mallon “empathized from his heart with all of those who were suffering and his consistent condemnation of violence from whatever source often left him open to insult and unfair criticism. But his principles, rooted in a strong faith and in an unstinting commitment to a culture of life, remained steadfast in face of such opposition.”
“To his dying day, Seamus Mallon remained a man of hope for a brighter future — a shared and respectful future where we all experience a sense of belonging. A fitting tribute to his legacy would be a renewed effort by all our political leaders and by all of us to build that ‘shared home place’ which was Seamus’s vision and lifelong project.”
Mallon worked with successive U.S. administrations to secure international support for the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that “history will remember Seamus as an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, a committed peace builder and a tireless champion of an inclusive Ireland.”
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