A ‘political titan’: Former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume dies


Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, “the architect of the Northern Ireland peace process”, has died.

The former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) had been ill for some time.

Having committed his life to the pursuit of Irish unity by peaceful means, he was fiercely criticised for holding secret talks with Gerry Adams.

John Hume, leader of the SDLP, talks to journalists on the steps of the County Antrim Hotel, near Belfast, this evening (Monday) as Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble (right) looks on. Following their meeting, the leaders agreed to seek talks with Prime Minister John Major on the future of Northern Ireland's economy. Photo by Brian Thompson/PA. SEE PA STORY ULSTER Politics.
In 1998, John Hume and his Unionist counterpart David Trimble were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace

But in 1993, Mr Hume persuaded the British and Irish governments that the gun could be taken out of Irish politics.

When the IRA declared its ceasefire the following year, Sinn Fein were brought in from the political cold.

It was the beginning of a peace process that would culminate in the Good Friday Agreement and power-sharing government at Stormont.

In 1998, Mr Hume and his Unionist counterpart David Trimble were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

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Speaking at the award ceremony in Oslo, Mr Hume said: “I want to see Ireland as an example to men and women everywhere of what can be achieved by living for ideals rather than fighting or dying for them.”

In a statement, his family said: “We are deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.

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“We would like to extend our deepest and heartfelt thanks to the care and nursing staff of Owen Mor nursing home in Derry.

“The care they have shown John in the last months of his life has been exceptional.”

They added: “John was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and a brother. He was very much loved, and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family.

“It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: we shall overcome.”

Irish prime minister Micheál Martin described Mr Hume as one “of the greatest Irish people that ever lived” and said his life was one of “towering achievement”.

“John Hume was a great hero and a true peace maker,” he said, adding: “All people on this island will give thanks for his life.”

Boris Johnson paid tribute to the “political giant”, saying there would have been no Belfast or Good Friday Agreement without him.

The prime minister said: “He stood proudly in the tradition that was totally opposed to violence and committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

“For decades he sought resolution of the Troubles in Northern Ireland through dialogue and agreement. Without John Hume there would have been no Belfast or Good Friday Agreement.”

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said he was a “giant in Irish nationalism”.

“In our darkest days he recognised that violence was the wrong path & worked steadfastly to promote democratic politics,” the Democratic Unionist Party leader wrote on Twitter.

Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said: “John was a huge figure in Irish politics for many years and was known the world over for his peace-making efforts.

File photo dated 05/03/2014 of Former US President Bill Clinton (centre) with John Hume and his wife Pat at the Guildhall in Londonderry, the former SDLP leader has died at the age of 83.
John Hume and his wife Pat with former US president Bill Clinton in 2014

“He was a leader who worked tirelessly for the community and his beloved Derry.”

Mr Adams, a former Sinn Fein leader, said the peace process was Mr Hume’s “huge achievement” and he was a “giant in Irish politics”.

“I have to say on this sad day we wouldn’t have the peace that we enjoy today if it wasn’t for John Hume,” Mr Adams told a news conference.

He added: “To his great credit, when the news broke about him meeting with me, and he was the victim of a tsunami of abuse and of vilification, he stuck with it.

“We must have met in secret and privately for over a decade, against a background and a foreground of terrible atrocities and other events.

“At the end of it all, it worked. And it worked not least because of John Hume.”

A man walks past the Bogside mural in Derry City of John Hume, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela.
A Bogside mural of John Hume, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela

Author and journalist Eamonn Mallie, who knew him well, said: “Hume was driven by one thing – a passion for peace. He hated that violence. He resented that violence.

“At every conference, constant at the northern star, Hume spelled out, underscored, amplified, the grotesqueness of what the IRA were doing.”

Mr Hume had come to prominence during the civil rights movement in his native Derry.

An MP for 22 years, an MEP for 25, he became a towering figure in the Anglo-Irish politics of the 20th century.

Former SDLP leader John Hume  attending the funeral of  Dr Edward Daly at St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday August 11, 2016. The former Bishop of Derry who came to the aid of a dying civil rights protester on Bloody Sunday and waved a white handkerchief in an enduring image of the Troubles died on Monday aged 82.  See PA story ULSTER Daly. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
John Hume committed his life to the pursuit of Irish unity by peaceful means

Former US president Bill Clinton, who once described him as “the Martin Luther King of Northern Ireland”, said in a joint statement with his wife Hillary: “Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend John Hume, who fought his long war for peace in Northern Ireland.

“His chosen weapon: an unshakeable commitment to non-violence, persistence, kindness and love. With his enduring sense of honour he kept marching on against all odds towards a brighter future for all the children of Northern Ireland.

“Through his faith in principled compromise, and his ability to see his adversaries as human beings, John helped forge the peace that has held to this day.”

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Former British prime minister Tony Blair said he was a “political titan”.

“His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was extraordinary,” Mr Blair said.

“I don’t think we would have ever really got the peace process going and implemented if he hadn’t been there offering help and advice.”

John Hume takes part in an interview after Northern Ireland votes in support of the peace deals signed on Good Friday
John Hume has been hailed as one ‘of the greatest Irish people that ever lived’

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA said: “His legacy is Ireland at peace with itself. His legacy is the ending of 800 years of history and allowing us now to achieve all sorts of possibilities.

“We’re no longer fighting with each other and there’s no prospect that we will in the future.

“We’re at peace, we have a democratic opportunity to set our own future. John Hume did that.”

A book of condolence in memory of Mr Hume will be opened at the Guildhall in the city by Mayor Brian Tierney.

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