I was deeply saddened earlier today to learn of the death of my friend and long time political hero Seamus Mallon.

Seamus was, by any credible measure, a truly great Irishman. In the difficult and complex history of Northern Ireland, there are very few political leaders who emerge with an unblemished record of service that stands up to detailed scrutiny. Seamus Mallon is one of them.

As an Assembly Member, Senator, MP and Deputy First Minister he was consistent and committed in his cause.

Heedless to the threat to his life from all sides in the Northern conflict, he was fearless and ferocious in his opposition to violence and his commitment to building a shared society.

He understood the deepest dynamics of Irish history better than anyone I have ever met. We spoke many times over the years and I had the great privilege of spending some hours with him in his home in Markethill in April discussing political developments.

Seamus was a no-nonsense politician and individual. He called it as he saw it and he never compromised in his honesty, whether he was on the streets of Newry and Armagh or in the state rooms of Downing Street or the White House.

He was deeply devoted to his late wife Gertrude and immensely proud of his daughter Orla. She and the entire family will be feeling a profound sense of loss today. They should also be feeling an equally profound sense of pride in having shared this remarkable man with the rest of the country and the world.

He was Republican in the truest sense of the word and his contribution to political life in this country is immeasurable. His death is the end of an era and I will miss his friendship and advice.

On behalf of the entire Fianna Fáil organisation I offer my condolences to Orla, her entire family circle and his former colleagues in the SDLP.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.