David Kerr was a Special Advisor and Press Secretary to David Trimble when he was First Minister in that period 1998-2001.
I’m very sorry to hear of the death of Seamus Mallon tonight. When I worked with David Trimble in the First Minister’s office between 1998-2001, we worked closely with Seamus and his team, in his role as Deputy First Minister.
He was a tough, principled and at times incredibly stubborn politician. Negotiating with Seamus took time because he was a good negotiator – and we respected him for that.
Having grown up with my own father’s direct, plain speaking style, at times I actually enjoyed Seamus’ blunt, no nonsense manner. It was often such a contrast to David’s mild mannered and intellectually charged style. Mallon was smart, but he didn’t waste time talking around an issue – he just got straight to it.
The fact he smoked a pipe while simultaneously trying to quit (like my father), also endeared him to me. When he was calm and relatively happy, I often thought, he must be back on the pipe.
Above all though, despite the tough exterior, he was a compassionate and thoughtful person. The visit by both him and David to Poyntzpass following the LVF murders of Phillip Allen and Damien Trainor, one month before the Good Friday Agreement, was a watershed moment.
It was time to bring an end to years of conflict and senseless murder. Both of them knew they had to lead us out of the darkness – and they did.
David and Seamus never got the joint respect and thanks they deserved for all their work and personal sacrifice – but I think history will be kind to them.
The photo below is my favourite personal photo of them together. I took it in October 1998, at an event in the John F Kennedy centre in Boston. We were on a trade mission promoting Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement.
I saw the JFK quote on a wall and I knew how profound and relevant it was to the journey we had all just begun. They knew it too.
I asked both of them to stand in front of it and before doing so, they gazed up at it. In today’s age, I would have had a high definition phone video of it all, but alas all we have is this grainy picture.
I think it’s great though and it captured our hopes and aspirations at that time.
God bless you Seamus and thank you for all your work in helping to bring peace to this country. It’s up to others to get on with it now.