SDLP veteran Seamus Mallon says future of children priority over past

SDLP veteran Seamus Mallon retired in 2005 to look after his wife
SDLP veteran Seamus Mallon retired in 2005 to look after his wife

Former Northern Ireland deputy first minister Seamus Mallon has challenged politicians to create a future for children rather than focus on commemorating the past.

The veteran of the SDLP, who retired in 2005 to look after his late wife Gertrude, said there is a long way to go for society to be left in a better place for the next generation.

And he repeated previous warnings that the core of the Good Friday Agreement has been destroyed.

“We are great in this country at having remembrance 1690, 1916, 1798, Twelfth of Julys,” he said.

“We are always great at remembering.

“Is it now time that we as a community, especially in the north, started to be good progenitors where we would leave, instead of remembering the past, we would prepare a future in terms of social, economic and political terms for the children coming after us? That’s the challenge, I think, for the future.

“We can do all of the remembrances. They’re easy. We all have the platitudes. It’s much more difficult to ask how are we going to leave this place when the Good Lord takes us away from it. What have we done? Have we left it in good shape for those coming after us?

“I think the answer to that, certainly in Northern Ireland, is that we have a long, long way to go.”

In a wide-ranging interview on RTE Radio’s Sunday With Miriam, Mr Mallon said the Manchester terror attack made him reflect on how he would react if his seven-year-old granddaughter Lara had been caught up in a similar incident.

“The reality when you start to ask these questions, there’s only one thing you have recourse to, that is hope and to create the better future,” he said.

Mr Mallon also spoke candidly about his relationship with John Hume, former SDLP leader and one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process.

“The papers said that we didn’t get on, that we had rows, all kinds of stuff,” he said.

“They were only partly true and because this reason there was a tension there. That tension was a constructive tension in a way that became, almost, like two pieces of mercury eventually getting on to the same plane.

“I have to say that I regard him with great affection and admiration.”

Mr Mallon added: “One of the things in my political career is that I was lucky to be with a man that did so much for the country, did so much for the people in it and did so much for everybody to get their heads around the art of politics.

“One of those is, politics doesn’t move quickly, developments take place, developments like the Anglo-Irish agreement, the next phase of it, the Downing Street Declaration, the Good Friday Agreement, all of those.

“Regrettably now, of course, the Good Friday Agreement and the whole thesis of it, the whole core of it has been blown out of the water.”