John was tireless in his pur­suit of peace

Irish Independent - - News | John Hume: 1937-2020 - Ber­tie Ah­ern

MY FRIEND John Hume had a very sim­ple view: You have to talk to your en­emy. Do­ing that cre­ates huge risk for demo­cratic gov­ern­ments but if you want to make progress, you have to ac­cept that the sta­tus quo can’t re­main un­touched.

To­day, Ire­land is at peace, largely be­cause of a man who kept go­ing when it seemed ev­ery­one had turned against him.

John’s per­se­ver­ance was ul­ti­mately re­warded with a sta­ble peace process and, thank­fully, global recog­ni­tion of his role in Ir­ish his­tory.

Over a glass of white wine, he used to of­ten re­mind me that he was the only man to be awarded the No­bel Peace Prize (1998), the Martin Luther King Jr Non­vi­o­lent Peace Prize (1999) and the Gandhi Peace Prize (2001).

John got mil­lions of awards. He would be able to re­count all of them but those three were the ones he would al­ways go back to.

My first mem­o­ries of him were af­ter I was elected in 1977. He used to drift into the Dáil and was a reg­u­lar caller to the Mem­bers’ Bar. I started get­ting friendly with him in the early 1980s af­ter I be­came Fianna Fáil as­sis­tant whip.

We would meet with the SDLP to dis­cuss events and he struck me as a great char­ac­ter. Al­ways nice, on top of his game, giv­ing ad­vice and opin­ions on how things should be han­dled.

He’d spend days in Le­in­ster House brief­ing peo­ple on the lat­est cri­sis in the North and ev­ery party would have an open door for him, re­gard­less of who was in govern­ment or op­po­si­tion. John was un­ques­tion­ably the big link in the bad years be­tween north and south.

In those days, the only thing in the news was the Trou­bles.

John was al­ways anx­ious to see if there was a way to find an agree­ment. Dur­ing the early 1980s he spent a lot of time work­ing on the New Ire­land Fo­rum. Veron­ica Guerin was sec­re­tary to the fo­rum and I re­mem­ber­many­acupofteaw­ashad­with Veron­ica and John dur­ing that time.

We had a dif­fer­ence of opin­ions over the An­glo Ir­ish Agree­ment (1985) but it never hurt our per­sonal re­la­tion­ship.

But even when ev­ery­one turned against him, he kept go­ing. There was a point when it seemed like he was do­ing it on his own.

Peo­ple will re­mem­ber the ‘Sun­day In­de­pen­dent’ was fa­mously crit­i­cal of his will­ing­ness to en­gage with Sinn Féin and the IRA in the early 1990s.

A story many peo­ple might not know is that years later Aen­gus Fan­ning, the late ed­i­tor, rang me be­cause he wanted to make up with John. I ar­ranged so that the three of us could meet in Fa­gan’s in Drum­con­dra. It turned into a great day of con­ver­sa­tion. Ev­ery­thing was made up, not so much with an apol­ogy but with friendly chats.

My­self and John used to of­ten go to Fa­gan’s when I was Taoiseach. The Derry bus would drop him off across the road at my of­fice, St Luke’s, and I’d get one of my driv­ers to drop him back into town for the bus back af­ter­wards.

The lads in there would make a big fuss out of him and it was al­ways great fun. Al­though one day I re­mem­ber there was a con­ver­sa­tion about the de­com­mis­sion­ing of arms and some­body else brought up Char­lie Haughey and the im­por­ta­tion of arms. John got a bit con­fused and started telling them off, say­ing ‘I never im­ported arms’.

He was very up­set when the IRA cease­fire broke down in 1996. He had in­vested so much into that pe­riod. And then the cards came tum­bling down with Ca­nary Wharf. At that stage it had gone to the very top of the hill and it all came rolling back down.

I had to go to him and tell him we couldn’t con­tinue the Fo­rum for Peace and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion gig in Dublin Cas­tle. The sad thing is that it was set up by Al­bert Reynolds in 1992 and never came back again.

But even­tu­ally we got to the Good Fri­day Agree­ment.

The only thing he re­ally wanted to see was the all-is­land vote. He said this was a way of tak­ing away the IRA’s ar­gu­ment that they had a man­date from the first Dáil in 1918. If the Good Fri­day Agree­ment was put to the full is­land and passed, then the IRA’s man­date ceased.

I backed him on that to make sure it hap­pened.

Tony Blair couldn’t un­der­stand why I wanted it be­cause we were talk­ing about try­ing to over­write some­thing from 1918. Look­ing back now, that all-is­land vote made so much sense in the end.

All the awards rightly fol­lowed as peo­ple un­der­stood the courage and com­mit­ment it took to de­liver last­ing peace.

As the con­flict raged in North­ern Ire­land, through sheer willpower the name of John Hume be­came syn­ony­mous around the world with the re­fusal to yield to those forces of ha­tred, of death, and de­struc­tion.

Hav­ing said that, one of the things he was most proud of, and re­ally felt was so im­por­tant in his life, was the credit union move­ment.

He be­came pres­i­dent of the League of Credit Unions at just 26. He trav­elled all over Ire­land set­ting up branches and that ac­tu­ally gave him a huge feel­ing for the south.

Now he sits up there with the best of them.

Him­self and Seamus Mal­lon, who died just over six months ago.

Ev­ery per­son on this is­land, na­tion­al­ist, union­ist or what­ever, owes John Hume a great debt of grat­i­tude for de­liv­er­ing democ­racy, free­dom and hu­man rights through meth­ods many said were naive.

He gave us peace in our time, may he now rest in peace.

Peo­ple un­der­stood the courage and com­mit­ment it took to de­liver last­ing peace

Courage: John Hume (left) and Ber­tie Ah­ern first met in the late 1970s and be­came friendly in the 1980s.

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