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Sometimes abrasive, often humorous, Seamus Mallon has earned the respect of many unionists as an honest spokesman for the nationalist cause.
Representing Newry and Armagh on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, he is a constitutional nationalist who believes in patient negotiation.
His character is perhaps best documented by the words of his opponents. The Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis once said while he disagreed fundamentally with many of Mr Mallon's views, "he's truthful and principled and straight as a die".
Mr Mallon's involvement in politics stretches back to the campaign for civil rights in the 1960s.
He became deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in 1979. Mr Mallon briefly sat in the Irish Senate in 1981, but his taking of the post led to political problems in Northern Ireland.
Throughout the Troubles, Mr Mallon has been a stern critic of the security forces. Nor did he hesitate to speak out against the IRA. His frankness led to death threats and attacks on the family home.
Such bluntness has also produced a challenging relationship with SDLP leader John Hume. Mr Hume's tendency to act as a one-man band, has on occasion left Mr Mallon uncomfortably out of the loop. Mr Mallon once acknowledged: "we are very different people".
Despite that, he has been a loyal deputy leader. The two men have great respect for each other's abilities - and Mr Hume’s stepping aside to allow Mr Mallon the deputy first minister post in the Northern Ireland Assembly appeared to signal his recognition that he could not do everything alone.
However, Seamus Mallon's first act following formal appointment was to resign after unionists blocked the setting up of the powersharing executive amid the prolonged disagreement about IRA decommissioning.
"They are dishonouring this agreement," he told the Assembly. It "does not belong to any one individual or political party, it belongs to the people, they voted for it, they own it."
When the powersharing executive was set up in November 1999, however, Mr Mallon's 'resignation' was decided to have been only an offer to stand down. There was a row about this, but he stayed as deputy first minister.
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