Former SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, recalled yesterday how he and the late SDLP MP Eddie McGrady had some reservations over party leader John Hume’s role in secret talks with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in the mid-1990s.
Speaking on Radio Ulster, Mr Mallon said that Mr McGrady “would have shared with myself, and probably Joe Hendron, not that we didn’t want to get peace, not that we didn’t want Sinn Fein to stop violence, but that we wanted to make sure the political process wasn’t distorted by the type of demands they would be making”.
“That’s where Eddie and myself and some others felt that we should have taken a line which ensured that things were done before any concessions were made in the political process,” said Mr Mallon.
“Of course that didn’t happen.”
Mr Mallon said that he suspects “when history judges it, it will probably come to the conclusion that – had those things been done – the difficulties of the UUP wouldn’t have been so great and the difficulties for ourselves wouldn’t have happened, and the whole process 15 years on would be much, much further down the line of creating a future that we can all share in”.
Mr Mallon said Mr McGrady “understood the problems of unionism and he realised that if we are ever going to solve our problem we have to deal with things as a community”.
He said: “Eddie put that into effect the way in which he dealt with the fisheries issue in south Down, that gained him a lot of respect, and I saw at first hand the way he dealt with the fair employment legislation.
“It was a massive tome and the expert way he dealt with it and got it through.”
Mr Mallon added that Mr McGrady “knew what politics was about and he carried himself down through the years with a dignity and an integrity that impressed everybody”.
“And it was for that reason he got so much support in south Down in the unionist community and that he was elected to Westminster.
“You knew with Eddie he would be playing with a straight bat and would say exactly what he thought, and what he thought was almost always the right thing.”
Tribute was also paid to Mr McGrady by South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells.
“I first met Eddie when I was elected to the Assembly in 1982,” he said. “Even though we were political opponents, over the last 31 years I always found him to be a gentleman and a public representative who worked tirelessly for all the people of south Down.”
Church of Ireland bishop the Rev Harold Miller also paid tribute to Mr McGrady as “quite simply one of the nicest people you could ever meet”.
“His life was spent in the cause of peace and mutual understanding in Northern Ireland. He was also a man of faith, committed to understanding across the churches.”
Requiem Mass for Mr McGrady will be held tomorrow at 10am in St Patrick’s Church, Downpatrick.