Fondly remembering a peace maker as General Election campaign gathers momentum

I must begin this column by talking about the late Seamus Mallon who passed away over the last week.

I had such respect for Seamus Mallon, as I know so many of other thousands of Irish people had also.

I remember so well working with Bertie Ahern when he was head of Fianna Fáil and I was deputy leader. We were in opposition from 1994-1997, when John Bruton and the Rainbow Coalition came into power, peacefully, not following a general election.

Bertie was working away with the SDLP and with so many others in formulating ideas and policies, which as we all know eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement. I recall meeting Seamus on many occasions. I always admired his indomitable spirit and his determination to be straightforward and fair to all.

But in particular, I remember his overriding, constantly-repeated refrain that weapons solve nothing; the only weapons which are any good in a conflict situation are the weapons of words, duly considered and uttered.

Now, when all over the world there are outbreaks of violence and rebellion and insurrection, how true those words are. Guns and violence only perpetuate the conflict. The overriding positivity of words is what really counts, and I suppose when all the peace talks are over, in the end that is the truth of the matter.

Charlie Haughey, as we know, appointed him to Seanad Éireann and I remember so well one night, quite late, having a long conversation with him about so many matters. I was so struck by his honesty and clarity of thought and expression, that I knew instinctively I was in the presence of greatness. There are very few people that one can say that of, but you could with full truth say it of Seamus Mallon.

I watched his funeral Mass on TV from the tiny parish church. Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All Ireland, gave the sermon at the Mass.

There was a very funny incident which struck me immediately, of how technology has permeated every aspect of life. Archbishop Martin, who as you know is very soft-spoken, stepped up to the podium holding in one hand a sheet of paper, and in the other a small tablet. He put them down carefully, and adjusted his tablet up and down until he got what he wanted.

And then he was off on his homily of praise for Seamus Mallon, which he had clearly carefully written and put into his tablet, and we were seeing modern life in that tiny parish church in County Armagh.

And with the lovely song ‘The Bard of Armagh’, it was all so simple, true and good, exactly as Seamus had been himself. May he rest in peace.

That is miles away from the hurly-burly of politics, which is ongoing – debates daily and nightly, with different party leaders, different policies – and the end result? The people will decide on February 8, and the ongoing speculation about who will form a government is now just academic nonsense. People will decide by their votes where they think power should rest, and despite the waffle from so many of us (including myself ), that will be the outcome.

It was good to see NUI Galway featuring on Monday night on the Claire Byrne Live Leaders’ Debate from the campus. It was instructive to watch the attentive audience and the seven party leaders, whom I thought betrayed sound judgment in their utterances. Not much between them, it has to be said, but a tightening debate now on housing and health, which are of course the two huge issues rightly dominating this debate.

From what we see and hear, the west of Ireland is experiencing snow and intense cold. Here in the low-lying, damp Midlands we have had very cold weather, but nothing as extreme as we have seen portrayed in the Mayo/Galway region.

And so to games. I saw a massive headline in the sport supplement of the Sunday Independent, which said “Thank God for Dublin and Kerry”. I fully agree with that.

I was at a dinner in the Hodson Bay Hotel for the Accommodation Managers of hotels throughout Ireland, a really vast affair. The man on my right side had a small TV on his phone, and he and I from time to time watched, absorbed, as the play advanced.

It was a pulsating, marvellous game, and what a pity we don’t have teams like Kerry and Dublin every weekend.

Kerry were magnificent with their 21-year-old captain David Clifford, who scored a brilliant goal as well as providing the proper leadership for a match such as this.

It is good that GAA is back with a bang, and that Kerry will be playing with a good team, otherwise we would forever have Dublin winning every year.

The match drew a huge crowd of onlookers, as well as very large viewership figures on TV. It will give great momentum to Dessie Farrell as the new manager of Dublin, but I have no doubt their days of supremacy will come to an end later this year, being successfully challenged by the momentum and courage of the men from Kerry.

So, the Allianz League is back and we will have thrills and spills from all of that. I was glad to see that Westmeath triumphed in one of the lower divisions and I will be following their progress with great interest – also Roscommon in its closely-fought game.

And now we have the great delight of the beginning of the Six Nations next weekend. Again, a new manager, a new team, and what beckons for Ireland?

I will not be able to look at the match on Saturday, because I have undertaken a political engagement in Nenagh for a young woman who is going forward there for Fianna Fáil. Her name is Sandra Farrell. But I will follow it as I journey there and back, and wish Ireland every success. More about that anon, I am sure, next week, when the paths will be clearer for what could be Ireland’s progress in this upcoming Six Nations.

But over all, of course, hangs the 2020 General Election. Like so many of our readers, I am watching, listening, viewing, absorbing, reflecting and thinking deeply as the various parties unfold their manifestos and tell Ireland what they are going to achieve for us all.

I look at the posters (and there are very few this year ) with their open, plaintive, pleading faces literally begging for your number one, or indeed whatever vote you can give them. Please respond generously to those who come to your door canvassing. I invite everyone in – some come, some don’t – but it gives me a chance to interact with the various parties and to absorb what they are saying.

I think of them during the cold evenings and nights, and the spirit of enthusiasm that they are able to convey to us, the voters. I think also, of course, back to all the years when I did the same thing myself. But I am so glad that I am now alive and well and able to absorb all they are telling us about their programmes of action.

It is good that we live in a democracy; relish it and enjoy it.

That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke.

 

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