On Sunday,March 23rd 2014,a large audience in All Saints’ Church heard the distinguished Northern Irish politician,Seamus Mallon give an eloquent talk on the Peace Process and Northern Ireland today. The former Deputy First Minister and former Deputy Leader of the S D LP talked about the challenges facing the still deeply divided society that is Northern Ireland-a place where historical grievences and memories still run deep and where the extremist wings of Nationalism and Unionists now share power and look after the interests of their respective communities with little regard to the interests of the other side.
Introduced by the Rector of All Saints’ Revd Alastair Graham, as “The man who put Market hill on the map”, Mr Mallon gave his audience a stark insight into the realities of life in a divided society where two communities who have each inflicted great hurt on the other,live side by side. As he pointed out ,neither the leaders of Unionism or of Nationalism are going to lead their followers to Lough Neagh and get them to jump in! Neither community is going to go away.
Mr Mallon spoke with bleak honesty about how difficult it is for him personally to love the men who have gathered outside his house to shout abuse at him and wave flags. He talked about the legacy of discrimination and bigotry endured by Roman Catholics in the North over many decades .He also talked about visiting the homes of police officers killed by republicans.
Mr Mallon talked amusingly about how Northern Ireland has about five national anthems-including the British and Irish ones,as well as “God Save Ireland”, Ireland’s Call and the Orange Ballad “Dolly’s Brae”. He talked about the importance of community and how important it is. He talked about the racism which has appeared in Northern Ireland in recent years and expressed his unhappiness at the way in which some immigrants are suffering economic exploitation.
One of the most interesting parts of the talk was when Mr Mallon admitted to feeling hurt at what he sees as the way in which the moderate parties-the S D L P and the Ulster Unionists, were betrayed by the then Irish and British governments and the extremists-the DUP and Sinn Fein,were brought in. He felt that the position of then Ulster Unionist Leader,David Trimble was effectively cut from under him. Mr Mallon was particularly critical of the fact that Decommisssioning of paramilitary weapons was not made an obligation,feeling that this made life impossible for Trimble and also undermined the rule of law and the distinction between lawful and illegal armed forces .It was clear from his comments that Mr Mallon has little trust or respect for Messrs Blair,Aherne or Clinton.
Mr Mallon praised the work of clergy across the religious divide in the North who worked tirelessly for their communities,while acknowledging that some Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy had behaved in a tribal and unchristian manner. In reply to one question from the audience,he agreed that the Christian duty to love ones neighbour was very important and essential- a question of Humanity as much as Christianity.
A former teacher,Mr Mallon gave his audience a lesson on literature-reading from the works of a number of poets,including Wilfred Owen,Louis McNiece,Rudyard Kipling, John Hewitt and our President,Michael D Higgins. The poems he read reflected a loathing of war and mindless tribalism and a reminder of the common humanity we all share .
Mr Mallon expressed distaste for the way in which the present D U P and Sinn Fein coalition are running Northern Ireland and also shared his worry that the abolition of the Housing Executive will lead to abuses of the system in a situation where DUP and Sinn Fein are allocating jobs to their own supporters. He gave an amusing anecdote about a case in which a councillor gave one applicant for a house the front door key to a house and gave another applicant the backdoor key to the same house!
Mr Mallon talked about a possible future scenario in which the British withdraw from the North and the Unionists and other Parties come down to Dublin seeking to become part of the State here only to be told “you have a nice big parliament building up there. Go back up”. Mr Mallon also posed the quest[om as to whether the Irish Republic is a nation or a state. He appears to believe that the British may leave Northern Ireland at some point in the not too distant future and that the North may still explode again as it did in 1968.
The former Deputy First Minister stated that one aspect of the Peace Process which he felt had been a great success was the policing issue-the creation of the PSNI and the reforms of the Northern Justice system. He praised the role of the Police Ombudsman in the North and expressed concern at what he saw as an attempt to undermine the Garda Ombudsman by the Commissioner and the Minister. Tlking about the way in which the justice system had been undermined in the past in the North,Mr Mallon stated,very strikingly,that the Justice system belongs to the people and that it is the role of lawyers,police and politicians to administer the system for the people. Justice belongs to the people.
At the end of the talk,Revd Graham said that everyone in the audience would always remember that they were there that night to hear Mr Mallon speak and talked about how Mr Mallons’ sincerity could not be hidden. The large audience, then showed their appreciation for Mr Mallon by giving him a standing ovation. All present felt lucky to have had the opportunity to hear one of the architects of the Peace Process, here in Mullingar