■ The great­est Ir­ish­man of his time.

John Hume 1937-2020

Irish Examiner - - Front Page -

John Hume, who has died aged 83 af­ter a long, chal­leng­ing ill­ness, was the great­est Ir­ish­man of his time. In­deed, that recog­ni­tion might eas­ily be ex­tended to name him as the great­est Ir­ish­man since The Lib­er­a­tor, Daniel O’Con­nell. That he, with David Trim­ble, won the No­bel Peace Prize in 1998, the Martin Luther King Peace Award in 1999, and the In­ter­na­tional Gandhi Peace Prize two years later, gives weight, and an un­de­ni­able, con­firm­ing in­ter­na­tional per­spec­tive to that as­sess­ment. By stead­fastly cling­ing to the prin­ci­ples of par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy, so­cial jus­tice, espe­cially ed­u­ca­tion and hous­ing for all, cross-com­mu­nity co-op­er­a­tion, re­spect and, most of all, non-vi­o­lence he did more than any­one to build the Ire­land, and all its still un­re­alised op­por­tu­ni­ties, that we may have come to take for granted.

Though his in­formed, sup­port­ive con­tem­po­raries will see his great legacy in the round, some of to­day’s as­sess­ments may not see the back story of his life’s work. They may over­look the Her­culean brav­ery, com­mit­ment, and self­less­ness Hume demon­strated when con­fronted with ev­ery­thing from hos­til­ity to ap­a­thy in the three decades be­fore the Good Fri­day Agree­ment was made real in April 1998. At this com­fort­able re­move, it is all too easy to for­get how very dan­ger­ous it was to con­front the IRA in Derry, or any­where in the North, in the 1970s or 1980s, yet that is the path he and his SDLP col­leagues chose. They showed great courage too in con­fronting union­ism’s big­otry, a root cause of the North’s dys­func­tion.

Hume took that mis­sion to Amer­ica too, where he sin­gle­hand­edly changed the nar­ra­tive in a game-chang­ing way. Where once Provo fundrais­ing was the dom­i­nant dy­namic among many Ir­ish-Amer­i­cans who should have known bet­ter, he en­listed pow­er­ful politi­cians — Tip O’Neill, Daniel Pa­trick Moyni­han, Hugh Carey, and Ted Kennedy — as a foil to bi­ased, un­chang­ing Bri­tish in­flu­ence in Wash­ing­ton. Iron­i­cally, that quar­tet, all dead now, com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing Hume’s ef­forts while some Ir­ish po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, un­nerved by his di­a­logue with the IRA, waited to see which way the wind would blow. Pow­er­ful me­dia voices were equally disin­gen­u­ous but, like many lag­gard politi­cians, they were all too happy to climb on the Hume band­wagon when his ef­forts, and sac­ri­fice, bore fruit.

That the Good Fri­day Agree­ment came 26 years, 3,500 deaths, in­nu­mer­able bro­ken fam­i­lies and bod­ies, af­ter Hume out­lined his am­bi­tions in the SDLP doc­u­ment ‘To­wards a New Ire­land’ shows how very dif­fi­cult it was to achieve the only sus­tain­able out­come. Hume un­der­lined that am­bi­tion when he wrote: “Ire­land is not a ro­man­tic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5 mil­lion 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.”

Hume’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive po­lit­i­cal ca­reer be­gan in Fe­bru­ary, 1969 when he was elected to Stor­mont but his 26 years as a mem­ber of the Euro­pean par­lia­ment in­spired the op­ti­mism — and stamina — needed to achieve his ob­jec­tives. Dur­ing his time as an MEP, French­man Jac­ques Delors be­came pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion while Hel­mut Kohl, whose brother was killed dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, served as Ger­man chan­cel­lor. That they worked to­gether to en­sure the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of Ger­many that un­der­pins Euro­pean sta­bil­ity to­day showed Hume that nearly any­thing is pos­si­ble if no­ble, hon­est hope re­places trib­al­ism. That les­son, and not just in an Ir­ish con­text, seems more per­ti­nent ev­ery day.

Hume could not have had such an im­pact without his wife Pat, who not only sup­ported his pub­lic ca­reer but helped him through th­ese last dif­fi­cult years when they faced his de­men­tia. Their re­la­tion­ship was de­fined by love — as was Hume’s re­la­tion­ship with all com­mu­ni­ties on this is­land, the mark of a true, self­less pa­triot. May he rest, as he lived, in peace.

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