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Former First Minister Trimble recalls historic Poyntzpass visit with Seamus Mallon

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Pacemaker Bfst Ltd 4-3-98 Tommy Canavan(Right) Brother of  Pub Owner with Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble and SDLP Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon  in Poyntzpass were they visited the  Two Familys  of the men killed.

Pacemaker Bfst Ltd 4-3-98 Tommy Canavan(Right) Brother of Pub Owner with Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble and SDLP Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon in Poyntzpass were they visited the Two Familys of the men killed.

Pacemaker Bfst Ltd 4-3-98 Tommy Canavan(Right) Brother of Pub Owner with Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble and SDLP Deputy Leader Seamus Mallon in Poyntzpass were they visited the Two Familys of the men killed.

Former First Minister David Trimble has reflected on a historic visit to Poyntzpass to visit the families of two murdered friends with the late Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon.

Mr Mallon, who died on Friday at the age of 83, and Lord Trimble were often dubbed a political "odd couple" but developed a strong relationship while serving together in office.

Speaking to the BBC's Sunday Politics programme, Lord Trimble spoke about their visit to the families of Philip Allen and Damien Trainor - one a Protestant, one a Catholic - who were gunned down in a Co Armagh pub.

The two friends were shot dead by the LVF more than twenty years ago in what's been described as one of the most sickening attacks of the Troubles.

The SDLP's Mr Mallon and former UUP leader Lord Trimble visited their families in a powerful display of unity at the time.

"Seamus had come down from Markethill and I had come from Lisburn," Lord Trimble recalled.

"I came to the house of one of the victims and Seamus was there. My close protection officers were ushering me towards the car and Seamus said why don't we walk through the village and I said yes."

Lord Trimble said the pair took their time walking through the village of Poyntzpass in March 1998 so that they would be seen talking to each other.

"There are a number of people who told me after the event that when they saw that, they realised there was a possibility of things working. Up until then, politics in Northern Ireland hadn't worked and hadn't delivered.

"But now, people saw something which indicated maybe this time it's going to be different, and of course it was."

Speaking about when he and Mr Mallon first started working as First and Deputy First Minister, Lord Trimble said they were in a position of having to implement the Good Friday Agreement, which was signed that year.

"None of us had run anything before. The first few months were difficult but we very quickly developed a way of handling the issues and we worked closely together over a significant period of time."

When asked about their personal relationship outside of politics, Lord Trimble said he and Mr Mallon had to trust each other in order to work together.

"There's no point in continually scoring points, you've got to actually work with the people who are there and work together to succeed.

"We had to get things done and that meant we had a working relationship and that means you can trust the other person and you have some idea of what the other person would want."

He described Mr Mallon as someone who understood unionists and unionism. "We knew his neighbours and he was friends with his neighbours and he had therefore a better view of things.

"Some nationalists don't have any understanding of unionism at all, Seamus was not one of them."

Speaking of his last visit to Mr Mallon in Markethill, Co Armagh last week, he said: "It was important to him and it was important to me too. When I left last Friday, I said I would come back next week but I didn't, because time ran out."

On the same programme, SDLP leader and MP Colum Eastwood said Mr Mallon rejected violence all his life.

"He stood against it in a very difficult way during a very difficult time. He did it against the forces of the state and he did it against paramilitarism and he did it without a gun in his hand, that's a brave and a difficult thing to do.

"When people wonder how he managed that, criticising the RUC and the UDR on one hand and going to the funeral of an RUC officer in the other, he's just telling the truth in that space, he's just saying violence is wrong, what the state and the paramilitaries were doing was also wrong and he's going to call it out, and he did call it out," he said.

"He was respected because he was unafraid and undeterred, he wasn't going to be put off by anybody and that's a real and a special kind of bravery."

The former SDLP deputy leader died at home in the care of his family following a period of illness.

His remains will repose at his late home until removal on Monday for Requiem Mass at midday in St James Church in Mullaghbrack.

He will be buried afterwards in the adjoining cemetery.

Belfast Telegraph