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Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK

Mallon: Calling a spade a spade

Seamus Mallon and David Trimble: tensions beneath the surface

Northern Ireland's deputy first minister Seamus Mallon is a politician who has never been afraid to speak his mind.

[ image: Hume: 'Occasional unease over stratetgy']
Hume: 'Occasional unease over stratetgy'
When he had his doubts about the strategy of his party leader John Hume in dealing with Sinn Fein, his unease was there for all to see.

During his time as deputy to David Trimble, Mr Mallon never shirked from speaking out when he felt - as he often did - that the First Minister was being intransigent.

He showed the same trait when he quit the post after Mr Trimble refused to nominate ministers to the executive.

Through years of violence, despite living in the largely Protestant village of Markethill, Mr Mallon was a stern critic of the security forces, a frankness that led to death threats and attacks on the family home.

As MP for an area that has been suffered more than most during thirty years of conflict, he did not hesitate to speak out against the IRA.

But the benefits of a career devoted largely to politics have not always been obvious, and it was many years before Mr Mallon entered Westminster, becoming MP for Newry and Armagh, at the fourth attempt, in 1986.

As deputy leader of the SDLP since 1979, he has had a sometimes difficult relationship with John Hume, acknowledging once "we are very different people".

Mr Hume's tendency to act as a one-man band, has on occasion left Mr Mallon uncomfortably out of the loop.

[ image: Seamus Mallon watches as Prince Charles signs a book of condolence after the Omagh bombing]
Seamus Mallon watches as Prince Charles signs a book of condolence after the Omagh bombing
Despite that, he has been a loyal deputy leader and the two men have respect for each other's abilities.

A blunt, sometimes abrasive, often humorous man, Mr Mallon has earned the respect of many unionists as an honest spokesman for the nationalist cause.

The Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis said while he disagreed fundamentally with many of Mr Mallon's views, "he's truthful and principled and straight as a die".

A long-standing involvement in politics stretches back to the campaign for civil rights in the 1960's.

His appointment to the Senate, or second chamber in the Irish Republic, in 1982 led to his expulsion by an election court from the local Assembly which existed at that time.

Since becoming deputy first minister, Mr Mallon has won much admiration for his emphasis on the need for accommodation by both communities.

In a speech welcoming President Clinton he said: "I believe passionately that one of the profound benefits of the Good Friday Agreement is the capacity it gives us to break free from the past, and write our own history.

"To do so, we all need to create space for each other. We are limited only by what we have agreed."

No politician in Northern Ireland is universally admired and Seamus Mallon certainly has his critics, both republican and unionist.

But for a politician who has been so long at the forefront of politics in such a divided community, his reputation is remarkably unscathed.

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In this section

David Trimble: More enemies than friends

John Hume: Midwife to the peace process

Mo Mowlam: London's eternal optimist

Gerry Adams: Between war and peace

Ian Paisley: Ulster's No man

John de Chastelain: Arms and the man

Mallon: Calling a spade a spade

David Ervine: Leaving the past behind