Northern Ireland

Nelson Mandela death: Northern Ireland leaders pay tribute

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Media captionNorthern Ireland politicians have paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, who died at the age of 95

Northern Ireland's political leaders have been paying tribute to Nelson Mandela who has died at the age of 95.

Mr Mandela, who was South Africa's first black president, died on Thursday after a long illness.

NI First Minister Peter Robinson said he was "inspirational", adding he had heard of his death with "deep sorrow".

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described him as "one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime" and said he was "a true friend to Ireland".

Other political leaders also acknowledged the former South African leader's contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.

First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson

"We have known for some time that he was ill, nonetheless, it still comes as a great shock to lose such an inspirational man and a massive figure in terms of world politics.

"I met Nelson Mandela on two occasions and was struck by his considerable humility and charisma.

"He did not see himself in terms of celebrity yet barely anyone throughout the world would not recognise his name and that is no small part because of his unique ability to connect personally with people.

"Nelson Mandela carried out his role with a real talent to draw people and whole communities together. South Africa and the rest of the world had a tremendous respect for him.

"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."

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness

"I offer my heartfelt sympathies to his family at this difficult time. I was honoured to meet Nelson Mandela the last time he was in Dublin and there is no doubt he was truly one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime.

"Through his humility, strong negotiation skills and desire for justice he earned respect as an ambassador for peace, human rights and democracy across the globe.

"He will be remembered for demonstrating what is possible when people are committed to peace and reconciliation in areas of conflict.

"Nelson Mandela has left an indelible mark not only in South Africa but across the world.

"In 1997, at a critical stage of our peace process, I was honoured to lead, at the invitation of President Mandela, a delegation to South Africa for significant discussion with South African peace negotiators, which also included all parties from the North.

"President Mandela's interest in the success of the peace process was epitomised by the valuable contributions made by amongst others Cyril Ramaphosa, his chief negotiator and the now deputy president of African National Congress, who was a constant source of support to us throughout.

"Nelson Mandela was a true friend to Ireland."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt

"When he became president his leadership, tolerance and generosity of spirit led South Africa through a period of potential turmoil.

"As president his respect for others and his humanity was an inspiration to all and helped smooth South Africa's transition to democracy.

"He was an iconic figure and a symbol of hope for many people throughout the world."

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell

"The world has lost a great champion for the rights of the oppressed, an advocate for those without a voice, a man who influenced change far beyond the confines which others attempted to impose on him.

"Nelson Mandela bestrode the world like a colossus. He was one of the greatest men of the 20th century.

"Despite the abuse that he, and those associated with him, had suffered, he turned the other cheek and sought a peaceful and prosperous future for South Africa when apartheid was ended.

"As president he set an example to the world through his tolerance and his efforts to reach out to opponents and former enemies."

Alliance leader David Ford

"Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest leaders of the past century.

"He will be sorely missed by millions, not just in South Africa, but right across the world.

"His name became synonymous with peace and reconciliation. It was through his leadership that South Africa was able to throw off the shackles of apartheid.

"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."

NI21 deputy leader John McCallister

"The death of Nelson Mandela allows us to look back with admiration on a life given first to challenging the racism of the apartheid system and then dedicated to building a shared, peaceful and democratic South Africa.

"The example of Nelson Mandela reminds us that the foundation of politics must be a respect for the dignity of all, that our differences need not be a cause of division but that diversity is to be celebrated.

"We can be sure that the legacy of Nelson Mandela will inspire generations to come across the globe in building the politics of hope."

Nobel Laureate and former SDLP leader John Hume

"He was a beacon for forgiveness and reconciliation who shone across the world.

"He not only stood against the injustice and inequality of apartheid, but rose above it and overcame it, leading his nation and his people on the road to freedom.

"Nelson Mandela was a strong supporter of the Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, consistently promoting the need for inclusive dialogue, consultation and negotiation as opposed to confrontation and conflict."

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