Hume’s con­tri­bu­tion to peace, and to Ire­land, was unique

He was the great­est ad­vo­cate for peace based on mu­tual re­spect this coun­try had ever known, writes Fer­gus Fin­lay

Irish Examiner - - News -

It is per­haps an im­per­ti­nence to sug­gest the two words that should be carved largest on John Hume’s head­stone, but I’ll do it any­way. John Hume wasn’t just a peace­maker. He was the peace­maker.

He wasn’t just a pa­triot. He was the em­bod­i­ment of pa­tri­o­tism. For as long as Ir­ish his­tory is writ­ten, they are the words that be­long un­der his name. The pa­triot. The peace­maker.

Oth­ers have claimed credit for the work he started, work that without his courage and sac­ri­fice wouldn’t have hap­pened. And he never de­nied them their share. In­deed, I don’t re­mem­ber that he ever claimed credit for him­self any­way. But some­one said to me re­cently that it wasn’t enough for some to climb on Hume’s band­wagon, they wanted to try and push him off so they could own it for them­selves. That was never go­ing to be pos­si­ble.

Be­cause Hume’s con­tri­bu­tion to Ir­ish peace, and to Ire­land, was unique and un­mea­sur­able. He didn’t want to die for Ire­land, he wanted to work for Ire­land. He didn’t want to see any­one else die for Ire­land, and he of­ten said so. But much much more than that, he didn’t want to see any­one kill for Ire­land.

Through­out his life, Hume was, to a greater ex­tent than any other liv­ing Ir­ish per­son, the ar­chi­tect of non-vi­o­lence. We for­get now how fash­ion­able vi­o­lence was in Ire­land back then. Our ter­ror­ists were in­ter­na­tional celebri­ties. Phrases such as “armed strug­gle” and “the bal­lot box in one hand and the Ar­maLite in an­other” were com­mon cur­rency.

Mil­lions of pounds and dol­lars were raised and spent on weapons of de­struc­tion. The slaugh­ter of in­no­cents was al­ways jus­ti­fied in some fash­ion be­cause back then we didn’t do “the pol­i­tics of con­dem­na­tion”.

So John Hume, de­spite be­ing the leader of the largest na­tion­al­ist party in Ire­land, was un­fash­ion­able. When he first went to the US, to seek to de­velop per­suaders for a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, part of his task as he saw it was to wean Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and busi­ness away from un­think­ing sup­port for guns and bombs. In those early years, he suc­ceeded in win­ning key US lead­ers to a dif­fer­ent way be­cause of his con­vic­tion and his dogged­ness.

But he ploughed a lonely fur­row for a long time in the process. He had the sup­port of a staunch part­ner in Sea­mus Mal­lon, and through­out those early years, he had the back­ing of suc­ces­sive Ir­ish gov­ern­ments and a host of diplo­mats. But the moun­tain he climbed then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, would not have been scal­able without his per­sis­tence.

There were many moun­tains, and many times when his work in­volved de­spair, although he sel­dom showed it. Years later, when the peace process he had ini­ti­ated had taken root, and in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions were tak­ing place be­tween the two gov­ern­ments about what would be­come the Down­ing Street Dec­la­ra­tion, the IRA set off a bomb in Frizell’s chip shop on the Shankill Rd. Ten peo­ple were killed, in­clud­ing the bomber Thomas Be­g­ley, whose cof­fin was sub­se­quently car­ried by Gerry Adams.

A week later, and in re­tal­i­a­tion, three UDA gun­men in bal­a­clavas walked into the Ris­ing Sun bar in the lit­tle town of Greysteel, about 14km from Hume’s home in Derry. It was the night be­fore and one of the gun­men shouted “trick or treat” as he opened fire. A few min­utes later, seven peo­ple lay dead in the bloody car­nage that had been cre­ated, and more were to die of their wounds. Although some were Protes­tant, the ma­jor­ity were Catholic. They were all Hume’s con­stituents.

This was, by any def­i­ni­tion, the low­est point of the peace process, the dark­est hour be­fore the dawn. A se­quence of events over a mat­ter of days — the bru­tal Shankill mas­sacre, the Be­g­ley fu­neral, the ter­ri­ble mur­ders in Greysteel — had ren­dered all the work of peace seem­ingly point­less.

More even than that, there were those who thought that Hume had pan­dered to a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion that was sim­ply never go­ing to stop.

Hume was alone in those days. Be­cause the vic­tims of Greysteel were his con­stituents, of course he at­tended their fu­ner­als, as he had at­tended hun­dreds of oth­ers. He stood at the back, his head bowed. When he looked up, it was to see the daugh­ter of one of the Greysteel vic­tims con­fronting him.

Ex­cept she had any­thing but con­fronta­tion in mind. In­stead she pleaded with him not to give up, not to walk away from the process, as many were urg­ing him to do.

“We’re pray­ing for you to keep go­ing, Mr Hume,” she pleaded. “Don’t let any other fam­ily suf­fer the way mine has.”

It was, I think, the only time the pub­lic had ever seen John Hume cry. It was the na­ture of the man that he had pre­pared him­self to with­stand crit­i­cism. But he couldn’t stay stoic in the face of sol­i­dar­ity from some­one who was suf­fer­ing so griev­ously her­self.

Six weeks af­ter that mo­ment of des­o­la­tion in a grave­yard near his home, the Down­ing Street Dec­la­ra­tion was signed in Lon­don. It con­tained all the key phrases from a long and tor­tu­ous di­a­logue Hume had ini­ti­ated. The dec­la­ra­tion led, as he had per­suaded ev­ery­one it would, to an IRA cease­fire.

On the road to that break­through, there were mo­ments when John Hume had to pro­vide cover for timid over­tures by Charles Haughey. Mo­ments when he had to stay silent when Al­bert Reynolds had to dis­avow him, when news of the “Hume-Adams” process broke pre­ma­turely. Mo­ments when he had to swal­low hard when John Ma­jor said he couldn’t touch a John Hume doc­u­ment be­cause it also had Gerry Adams’ fin­ger­prints on it. Mo­ments of po­lit­i­cal hu­mil­i­a­tion en­dured for the sake of progress.

But there was noth­ing new about any of that. The peace process that led to the IRA ul­ti­mately putting down their guns hap­pened a quar­ter of a cen­tury into John Hume’s ca­reer. It was a ca­reer that started in peace­ful protest, cen­tred on civil rights for na­tion­al­ists. He be­came the undis­puted leader of con­sti­tu­tional na­tion­al­ism in Ire­land, and watched in frus­tra­tion as the di­vi­sions forged by vi­o­lence drove the two com­mu­ni­ties of North­ern Ire­land fur­ther and fur­ther apart.

In an ar­ti­cle he wrote a cou­ple of years ago, the late Sea­mus Mal­lon said the foun­da­tion of all John Hume’s work for peace was in the core ob­jec­tive of an SDLP doc­u­ment en­ti­tled ‘To­wards a New Ire­land’. As Mal­lon put it, that ob­jec­tive was “to bring about a so­lu­tion where Ir­ish peo­ple of dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions can build in­sti­tu­tions of gov­ernHal­loween, ment to pro­vide for last­ing peace and sta­bil­ity on this is­land, and for new har­mo­nious re­la­tions with Bri­tain it­self”.

Sim­ple, said Mal­lon, about that doc­u­ment that was writ­ten in 1972, but also, he added, the be­gin­ning of a life­time’s work. If you want to see the con­sis­tency of Hume’s pol­i­tics and ap­proach over that time, read what he had to say the day the Good Fri­day Agree­ment was signed, a quar­ter of a cen­tury later.

“Only on the ba­sis of equal­ity, fair­ness, and re­spect for our dif­fer­ences could we be­gin to heal the deep di­vi­sions be­tween our peo­ple. This his­toric agree­ment en­ables us, at last, to start the heal­ing process.”

The man who might have been a priest or a teacher ended up, more by force of cir­cum­stances than any­thing else, be­com­ing the great­est ad­vo­cate for peace based on mu­tual re­spect this coun­try had ever known. No other po­lit­i­cal leader in his­tory has ever been hon­oured with the No­bel Peace Prize, the Martin Luther King Jr Non­vi­o­lent

Peace Prize, and the Ghandi Peace Prize. That unique dis­tinc­tion alone surely marks him out.

Of course there were con­tra­dic­tions. Even the great­est of men have their frail­ties. I can re­mem­ber him in Le­in­ster House, scruffy from days of travel and over­work, at­tach­ing him­self to any­one who had cig­a­rettes to spare (back in the day when pol­i­tics was full of smoke-filled rooms), and quickly mov­ing on when the cig­a­rettes ran out. I can re­mem­ber his clos­est party col­leagues al­most weep­ing with frus­tra­tion at his fail­ure, again and again, to put the or­gan­i­sa­tion of his own party ahead of other needs.

He could be charm­ing one minute, rude the next, the life and soul of the party when he chose, and other times a pic­ture of the deep­est melan­choly.

None of that mat­tered in the end, be­cause Hume was a man who stood against in­jus­tice and op­pres­sion all of his adult life. But he also stood for things. His first cam­paign was for thirdlevel ed­u­ca­tion in Derry, His last cam­paign, af­ter re­tire­ment, was about poverty in the de­vel­op­ing world.

When he needed to stand alone, he stood alone. No ba­ton charge could shake him in his early days, no po­lit­i­cal or me­dia at­tack (re­mem­ber Eoghan Har­ris’s clar­ion call to “cut the cord to John Hume”) could de­ter him. From start to fin­ish, Hume’s out­stand­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic was his con­stancy.

The last few years had been dif­fi­cult for him and for his re­mark­able wife Pat, an­other true leader. Now that he has died, it seems im­pos­si­ble to sum him up. In the same ar­ti­cle I quoted ear­lier, Mal­lon used Hume’s own words to cap­ture the essence of Hume’s po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy: “Ire­land is not a ro­man­tic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5m peo­ple di­vided into two pow­er­ful tra­di­tions. 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.”

No one has done more to heal that divi­sion than John Hume. He be­lieved pas­sion­ately and sin­gle-mind­edly in what Ire­land could be­come, and spent his en­tire life try­ing to bring that about. Ir­ish hearts and minds can to­day be united about one thing at least: We have lost the great­est of our cit­i­zens.

John Hume is com­forted at the fu­neral of one of the vic­tims of the Greysteel mas­sacre, by one of their rel­a­tives. It was the only time the pub­lic had ever seen Hume cry.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.