Across the devolved nations, political leaders have lined up to express their admiration for Nelson Mandela.
Across the devolved nations, political leaders have lined up to express their admiration for Nelson Mandela, praising his compassion, humanity and the inspiration he provided to many across the country.
As it continues to seek answers as to how it can best reconcile its past in order to move forward into the future, Nelson Mandela’s legacy will perhaps be most felt in Northern Ireland.
The lessons of his peaceful struggle to bring black and whites together is a clear lesson for those across Northern Ireland’s society today about the power of the voice and the ballot box as being the most powerful weapons to achieve political aims.
Whilst he never visited Northern Ireland, Mandela nevertheless took a close interest in peace negotiations, providing respite for negotiators in 1997 when he agreed to host talks between the parties in Cape Town, away from the pressures of Belfast.
Recalling the moment that Mandela’s release from prison was beamed around the world, Sinn Fein’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness has spoken of the challenges it set for Northern Ireland. He explained:
“It also challenged us to think about our own situation.
“Because around that time the three big areas that were spoken about in the news media were the Palestinian situation, the South African situation, and the situation in the north of Ireland.”
Praising his humility and talent in being able to draw communities together in such a unique way, DUP first minister Peter Robinson has also reflected on the lesson Northern Ireland learnt from Madiba. Recalling one of his meetings with him, Robinson explained:
“When I asked how he dealt with opposition and the business of negotiation he commented that real negotiation is not with political opponents, rather with your own community and while they may feel you are stepping ahead of them, it is important to convince them to make the journey – a message so pertinent to our own peace process.”
Picking up on that theme, Alliance Party Leader David Ford concluded:
“As our peace process began to gather speed in the 1990s, I know many people here took inspiration from what Nelson Mandela was able to achieve for South Africa. We learnt so much from him during the long road to the Good Friday Agreement.
“I remember a quote by him which has particular relevance to Northern Ireland – ‘No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite’.”
Mourning the loss of “a towering statesman and the outstanding political leader of his generation”, Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond highlighted the links Mandela had with Scotland. He said:
“Mr Mandela’s integrity, humanity and compassion were an inspiration to countless millions around the globe, and his influence transcended ideology, race and creed.
“He was also someone who had a longstanding commitment to and friendship with Scotland, and I had the privilege of meeting him once. Those links with Scotland were underlined by his being granted the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in 1981 when he was still imprisoned – the first city in the world to do so.
“The world is a poorer place for his passing, and our thoughts are with Mr Mandela’s family and the people of South Africa.”
Dubbing him “one of the greatest figures of modern times”, Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones responded to the news last night:
“Nelson Mandela can be truly described as one of the greatest figures of modern times. Not many people can claim to have changed the history of their nation for the better, by bringing together what was then a bitterly divided society.
“His message of forgiveness, of reconciliation for the sake of a better future is one all of us should follow. He described himself as an ordinary man, but he represented the best of humankind and he will be greatly missed.”
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