John Hume, peacemaker and Nobel laureate, dead at 83

John Hume on the final day of negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. file photo.


By Anthony Neeson

Tributes have poured in for John Hume after the Nobel Peace Prize winner passed away on Monday morning. He was 83.

John Hume’s long political career reached from the Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement in the 1960s to the re-establishing of Stormont after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

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In between he became the leader of the nationalist SDLP in Northern Ireland and held discussions with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams in the 1980s and 1990s which led to the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993 between UK Prime Minister John Major and Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. The Declaration eventually paved the way for the IRA ceasefire in August the following year.

Hume was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize along with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble for his efforts.

Hume died in his native city of Derry in a nursing home after a long period of illness.

Announcing his death, a family statement through the SDLP said: "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."

Mr Hume had been criticized on both sides of the border, and created tensions within his own party, when news broke that he had been holding secret talks with Gerry Adams. Recalling those times, Mr. Adams said that initiative was a “breakthrough moment in Irish politics."

"When others were stuck in the ritual politics of condemnation John Hume had the courage to take real risks for peace," Adams said.

President Michael D Higgins said in a statement: "John's agreement to examine the potential of building an alternative to conflict was the mark of a political leader genuinely prepared to look at the bigger picture and to put the wider interests of society above narrow party politics.

"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.

The recognition of the late Derry politician with a Nobel prize in 1998 was a source of great pride for the people of Derry, President Higgins said.

"That his efforts were recognized 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.

President Higgins noted that 2020 had seen the passing of two of the most influential figures in Irish politics in the latter half of the 20th century.

"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."

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: "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."

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair described Mr. Hume as “a political titan, a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past."

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster described Mr. Hume as a “giant in Irish nationalism."

“In our darkest days he recognized that violence was the wrong path and worked steadfastly to promote democratic politics,” she said.

In 2001, Mr. Hume, who was an MEP and Foyle MP, resigned as leader of the SDLP, citing ill health. In 2010 he was voted "Ireland’s Greatest" in an RTÉ public vote.

John Hume is the only person to have been awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Martin Luther King Award, and the Nobel Peace Prize.