John Hume: Peacemaker

Above: John Hume Assisted from a civil rights demonstation.

Beibhinn Byrne

There has been an outpouring of tributes for the late John Hume, the former SDLP founder and leader, architect of the Peace Process and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize alongside David Trimble in 1998. He died over the August Bank Holiday weekend, on Aug 2nd.

He himself said during his lifetime, “I never thought in terms of being a leader. I thought very simply in terms of helping people.” Ireland was ablaze on the Bank Holiday Monday with praise for “The most significant figure in nationalism and republicanism in a century,” “A great man of conviction who put his life on the line for the betterment of society,” “A man of peace,” “A true statesman,” “Ireland has lost a hero,” were just a few examples of the respect with which he is regarded.

President Higgins’s statement highlighted his great hallmark and philosophy of respecting differences and diversity and learning to work with them not against them, “It is no exaggeration to say that John Hume radically changed and reshaped Irish politics, through his words, wise diplomacy and willingness to listen to the ‘Other’ opinion, which was sometimes difficult to accept and seek he was at peace with his personal bravery and leadership as well as his firm belief in the principles and values of true democracy.”

“John Hume, through his words, his astute diplomacy and willingness to listen… transformed and remodeled politics in Ireland and the search for peace, with personal bravery and leadership.” John Hume himself described The Troubles as, “A quarrel of centuries,” and in a speech to the European Parliament, he underlined the “respect for difference and diversity,” which allows “real healing to begin.”

No real society, new or old, can be built or rebuilt with power imbalances at play.

He summarised this fundamental principle of harmony in his Nobel Prize address: “Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace – respect for diversity.”

Leaders of the government, opposition and political parties also released statements. Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald tweeted, “John Hume was a towering figure, a national icon. I am so sorry to learn of his death. Deepest condolences to his wife Pat, to his children and wider family, friends and colleagues in @SDLPlive “Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.” “Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”

An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, Leader of Fianna Fáil said, “It is impossible to properly express the scale and significance of John Hume’s life. 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. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

An Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar and Leader of Fine Gael tweeted, “Today, we mourn the passing of one of Ireland’s greatest ever sons. He ranks alongside O’Connell and Parnell in the pantheon of Ireland’s great leaders. He was a patriot, a peacemaker, a democrat, and a great great Derryman. RIP John Hume.”

Green Party Leader and Minister for Environment, Climate Action, Communications and Transport, Eamon Ryan, expressed his personal sadness and remarked, “As a powerful advocate for human rights and democratic politics, he will be remembered as one of the key architects of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. “He was a man who saw beyond division and the cycle of violence that had consumed Northern Ireland. He worked relentlessly, at great personal risk, to bring peace and stability to this island and every one of us owe him a debt of gratitude for his life’s work.”

A towering figure of peace and humanity and a force for good. He has and will continue to inspire people to strive for selfless good and betterment and to resolve conflict through peaceful means. May his legacy live on in all our spheres of life