Former SDLP leader and Nobel laureate John Hume has died.
He is regarded as one of the most important figures in Irish political history and the peace process. Although he was criticised for it, Hume always defended his decision to talk to Sinn Féin in order to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
Hume once said: “Politics is the alternative to war.”
President Michael D Higgins paid tribute, saying: “All of those who sought and worked for peace on our island of Ireland, and in the hearts of all, will have been deeply saddened by the passing of John Hume, Nobel Peace Laureate and Statesman.
“John Hume, through his words, his astute diplomacy and willingness to listen to what was often difficult to accept but was the view of the ‘Other’, transformed and remodeled politics in Ireland, and the search for peace, with a personal bravery and leadership, and with a steadfast informed by a steadfast belief in the principles and values of genuine democracy.
“John’s deep commitment to these values and his practical demonstration of tolerance and social justice, oftentimes in the face of strong opposition and tangible threats to his person and his family, asserted the fundamental principles of democracy. He and those others who helped usher in a discourse that enabled a new era of civil rights and responsive government that few would have thought possible, have placed generations in their debt, have been a source of hope.
“That his efforts were recognised through the awarding of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize brought great joy not only to his people in Derry, his colleagues in politics, particularly in the SDLP, but to a wider global set of colleagues and fellow advocates for peace abroad who held him in the greatest esteem and admiration.
“Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, as President of Ireland, may I say how deeply grateful we all should be that we had such a person as John Hume to create a light of hope in the most difficult of times.
“It was Seamus Mallon, that other great statesman and courageous peace seeker and builder, who observed: “Inside was a man who had something big to do. There is a greatness about his political life in what he did and what he helped to do. I would put him in the same breath as Parnell and Daniel O Connell.
“We are grieving in this difficult year 2020 for two great apostles and seekers of peace.
“Whatever the loss to all on this island, to his family his loss is greatest. To his wife Pat, his children, and all those who loved him, Sabina and I send our deepest sympathy.
Siochán siorraí le a anam.”
In a statement, the SDLP reacted to the news: “We are deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.
“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.
“As a family, we are unfailingly inspired by the professionalism, compassion, and love they have shown to John and all those under their care. We can never adequately show them our thanks for looking after John at a time when we could not. The family drew great comfort in being with John again in the last days of his life.”
Former prime minister Tony Blair, who was in office when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, has praised John Hume’s “epic” contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“John Hume was a political titan; a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past,” Mr Blair said in a statement.
“His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic and he will rightly be remembered for it.
“He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen.”
He added: “Beyond that, he was a remarkable combination of an open mind to the world and practical politics.
“In any place, in any party, anywhere, he would have stood tall. It was good fortune that he was born on the island of Ireland.”
The former Labour prime minister said Mr Hume had influenced his politics “in many ways”, particularly through his belief in working to find compromises in disputes.
“I was fortunate to work with John on the Good Friday Agreement but also to get to know him years before,” Mr Blair said.
“He influenced my politics in many ways, but his belief in working through differences to find compromise will stay with me forever.
“My thoughts are with Patricia and the rest of his family. He will be greatly missed.”
Lord David Trimble paid tribute to Mr Hume, saying: “There is absolutely no doubt he was a major figure in the process.
“Right from the outset of the Troubles, John was urging people to stick to their objective peacefully and was constantly critical of those who did not realise the importance of peace.
“He was a major contributor to politics in Northern Ireland, particularly to the process that gave us an agreement that we are still working our way through.
“That is hugely important. He will be remembered for that contribution for years to come.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “John Hume was a great hero and a true peace maker.
“Throughout his long life he exhibited not just courage, but also fortitude, creativity and an utter conviction that democracy and human rights must define any modern society.
“During the darkest days of paramilitary terrorism and sectarian strife, he kept hope alive. And with patience, resilience and unswerving commitment, he triumphed and delivered a victory for peace,” said Mr Martin.”
Former Taoiseach John Bruton said: “John Hume was the pivotal figure of the 20th century in the development of thinking about Ireland’s future.
“He reframed the problem from being one about who held sovereignty over land, to being one about people, and how they related to one another.
“Thus reframed, the issue became one to which violence and coercion became completely irrelevant. This was the intellectual basis of the peace process.
“The issue was no longer one about winning or losing, but about sharing or choosing not to share.
“In practical terms, he won the argument. That is why we have peace today.”
Born in Derry in 1937, Hume trained briefly to be a priest before becoming a teacher.
As the situation in Northern Ireland became more volatile, he joined with other constitutional nationalists, including Gerry Fitt, to establish SDLP which aimed to achieve a united Ireland to be achieved by consent.
He campaigned for the Sunningdale Agreement which established a short-lived power sharing assembly involving unionists and nationalists and also played a key role in negotiations over the Anglo-Irish Agreement which for the first time gave Dublin a limited say in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
Elected as the MP for Foyle in 1983, he was also well regarded as a Member of the European Parliament.
Mr Hume worked tirelessly to bring an end to the violence in Northern Ireland, reaching out both to paramilitaries and politicians, including those in the United States – the first politician to do so.
In 1994, he took part in historic talks at Leinster House involving then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.
After the 1994 meeting, Mr Hume continued to meet Mr Adams and the Hume-Adams talks helped pave the way for the historic Downing Street declaration, and the IRA ceasefire months later.
The IRA would return to their campaign of violence but the Hume-Adams dialogue continued as multi-party talks began without Sinn Féin in 1996.
A ceasefire was called in July 1997, leading to Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam inviting Sinn Féin into multi-party talks at Stormont.
Those talks, chaired by US Senator George Mitchell, ultimately led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998.
Mr Hume played a key role in the negotiations that, following referendums north and south of the border, led to the establishment of power-sharing at Stormont.
In the wake of the agreement, Mr Trimble became First Minister, with Mr Hume’s party colleague Seamus Mallon becoming Deputy First Minister.
His contribution was recognised with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize which he received jointly with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.
He resigned as leader of the SDLP in September 2001, having been at the helm for 22 years. He said he had suffered from serious health problems and would be cutting down on his workload.