President Bill Clinton and two former British prime ministers today led the tributes to Northern Irish ‘political titan’ John Hume who has died at the age of 83.
Politicians of all stripes came together to hail the former SDLP leader’s relentless pursuit of peace and efforts in forging the Good Friday Agreement.
His role in brokering the 1998 power-sharing arrangement, which brought an end to the region’s sectarian violence, won him a Nobel Peace Prize.
President Clinton, a mediator in the peace process, this afternoon praised Hume’s ‘unshakeable commitment to nonviolence, persistence, kindness and love’.
His words were echoed by then-prime minister Tony Blair, who said the cross-party talks would have likely ended in stalemate without Hume’s tunnel-vision for peace.
Former Conservative prime minister John Major, whose government helped pave the way for the Agreement, described Hume as ‘one of the most fervent warriors for peace’.
Hume’s family say the SDLP founder, who had dementia and was being cared for in the Owen Mor nursing home in Londonderry, died after a short illness.
President Bill Clinton (second from right) and two former British prime ministers today led the tributes to Northern Irish ‘political titan’ John Hume (second from left) who has died at the age of 83
John Hume is detained by soldiers during a civil rights protest in Londonderry in August 1971
John Hume was the founding member of the Northern Irish political party the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)
He was also the co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with fellow Northern Irish politician David Trimble (left)
‘Ireland’s greatest’: John Hume: From teacher to Nobel Peace Prize winner
January 18 1937: John Hume is born in Londonderry. He is educated at St Columb’s College and St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, before going on to become a teacher.
1968: Hume emerges as one of the leading members of the civil rights movement as the Derry Citizens’ Action Committee (DCAC) stage a number of marches, advocating strictly peaceful demonstrations.
1969: Hume’s political career begins when he is elected at the age of 32 as an independent nationalist MP at Stormont.
August 1970: Hume becomes a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).
1979: Hume becomes leader of the SDLP.
1980s: Hume becomes directly involved in secret talks between the UK government and Sinn Fein.
June 10 1983: Hume is elected to Westminster for the new Foyle constituency.
November 15 1985: The Anglo-Irish Agreement is signed.
1988: Hume begins a series of contacts with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, which was to prove crucial in developing the peace process.
1997: The IRA announced the renewal of its 1994 ceasefire. Multi-party talks begin at which Hume and the SDLP play a significant role as the then second biggest party behind the UUP.
1998: Parties sign the Good Friday Agreement and a powersharing government is formed at Stormont. Hume wins the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with UUP leader David Trimble.
2004: Hume retires from politics due to ill-health.
2010: Hume is voted as ‘Ireland’s Greatest’ in a public poll by RTE.
2012: Pope Benedict XVI names him a Knight Commander of the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great.
2018: Hume is too ill to attend a ceremony at Queen’s University in Belfast to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
2020: He dies aged 83.
Hugely admired at both home and abroad for his fierce determination for peace, Hume was today remembered fondly by statesmen around the world.
In a statement, President Clinton, who flew to Northern Ireland to support the peace process, said: ‘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 weapons: an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence, persistence, kindness and love.
‘With his enduring sense of honor, 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.’
Mr Blair made a rare broadcast appearance to underscore Hume’s importance to delivering peace.
He said: ‘John Hume was a political titan; a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past.
‘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.
‘Beyond that, he was a remarkable combination of an open mind to the world and practical politics.’
Mr Major said: ‘Few others invested such time and energy to this search and few sought to change entrenched attitudes with such fierce determination.
‘Those whose communities have been transformed into peaceful neighbourhoods may wish to pay tribute to one of the most fervent warriors for peace.
‘He has earned himself an honoured place in Irish history.’
Boris Johnson described Hume as ‘a political giant’ while Sir Keir Starmer paid tribute to his ‘courage’.
Hume co-founded the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party and served as its leader between 1979 and 2001.
A staunch supporter of unification, he was praised for his willingness to compromise to deliver peace.
For his efforts he was co-awarded the highly-coveted 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble.
Current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Hume was Ireland’s most significant and consequential political figure.
‘It is no exaggeration to say that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland Hume imagined – an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny,’ he said.
Meanwhile, in a statement, Mr Hume’s family said: ‘We are deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.
‘Celebrating community in all its diversity went to the heart of John’s political ethos and we are very appreciative that our communities supported, respected and protected John.
‘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.
The family added: ‘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’.’
Former US President Bill Clinton (centre) with John Hume and his wife Pat at the Guildhall in Londonderry in 2014
Former Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party Leader John Hume and His Wife Pat in 2005
In their statement, the family also paid tribute to those who cared for Hume, who was being cared for at Owen Mor nursing home in Derry before his death.
The family praised the care he received in his final months as ‘exceptional’ and said the family were ‘unfailingly inspired by the professionalism, compassion, and love they have shown to John and all those under their care’.
His funeral will be arranged according to the government’s current Covid-19 regulations, which limits the number of people who can attend.
They said: ‘We realise this will mean that many will be unable to join us and we will arrange a memorial service and a celebration of his life in due course.
‘Above all, we know that John would have prioritised public health, and the safety and health of our communities.
‘We are grateful for your condolences and support, and we appreciate that you will respect the family’s right to privacy at this time of great loss.’
John Hume: The man seen as the principle architect of the Good Friday Agreement – for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize
The Catholic leader of the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party, Hume was seen as the principal architect of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement.
He shared the prize with the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, for their efforts to end the sectarian violence that plagued the region for three decades and left more than 3,500 people dead.
‘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 for them, and by viewing each and every person as worthy of respect and honor,’ he said in 1998.
‘I want to see an Ireland of partnership where we wage war on want and poverty, where we reach out to the marginalized and dispossessed, where we build together a future that can be as great as our dreams allow.’
Born January 18, 1937, in Northern Ireland’s second city – Londonderry to British Unionists, Derry to Irish nationalists – Hume trained for the priesthood before becoming a fixture on the political landscape.
An advocate of nonviolence, he fought for equal rights in what was then a Protestant-ruled state, but he condemned the Irish Republican Army because of his certainty that no injustice was worth a human life.
Though he advocated for a united Ireland, Hume believed change could not come to Northern Ireland without the consent of its Protestant majority.
He also realised that better relations needed to be forged between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between London and Dublin.
He championed the notion of extending self-government to Northern Ireland with power divided among the groups forming it.
‘Ireland is not a romantic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5 million people divided into two powerful traditions,’ he said.
‘The solution will be found not on the basis of victory for either, but on the basis of agreement and a partnership between both. The real division of Ireland is not a line drawn on the map, but in the minds and hearts of its people.’
While both Hume and Trimble credited the people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic for approving a referendum that led to power sharing, it was Hume’s diplomacy that offered the impetus to the peace process that led to the 1998 Good Friday accord.
Hume won the breakthrough in Belfast’s political landscape in 1993 by courting Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, in hopes of securing an IRA cease-fire.
That dialogue burnished Adams’ international credibility and led to two IRA cease-fires in 1994 and 1997.
Like most Protestant politicians at the time, Trimble had opposed efforts to share power with Catholics as likely to jeopardize Northern Ireland’s union with Britain. He at first refused to speak directly with Adams, insisting that IRA commanders needed to prove they were willing to abandon violence.
He ultimately relented and became pivotal in peacemaking efforts.
Hume had envisioned a broad agenda for the discussions, arguing they must be driven by close cooperation between the British and Irish governments.
The process was overseen by neutral figures like U.S. mediator George Mitchell, with the decisions overwhelmingly ratified by public referendums in both parts of Ireland.
‘Without John Hume there would not have been a peace process,’ Mitchell said at the time the prize was announced. ‘Without David Trimble there would not have been a peace agreement.’
Tributes poured in after’s Hume’s death was announced, from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Chief European Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, and Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin.
‘It is impossible to properly express the scale and significance of John Hume’s life,’ Martin said in a tweet.
‘He was one of the towering figures of Irish public life of the last century. His vision and tenacity saved this country. We owe him and his wife Pat so much.’