John Hume, architect of peace process, dies aged 83

Former SDLP leader was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his role in Northern Ireland

John Hume has died in his home city of Derry. Harry McGee reports on the life of Ireland’s chief architect in the peace process and a man described by Bill Clinton as ‘the Irish conflict’s Martin Luther King’.

 

The funeral will take place in Derry on Wednesday of former SDLP leader and Nobel laureate John Hume who has died aged 83.

Mr Hume, who spearheaded the finally successful efforts to end the violence of the Troubles and who is viewed as the architect of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, was in a nursing home and had been ill for a long time.

He was centrally involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and served as an MP, Assembly member and MEP. In 1998, he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with then Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble.

He is survived by his wife Pat and children, his children Terese, Áine, Aidan, John and Mo, his brothers and sisters and grandchildren.

Mr Hume’s remains will be taken to St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry on Tuesday evening. His funeral Mass, at 11.30am on Wednesday morning, will be celebrated in line with current Covid-19 restrictions with strictly limited numbers.

Former SDLP leader John Hume ‘passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning’, his family said. after a short illness. Photograph: Jack McManus
Former SDLP leader John Hume ‘passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning’, his family said. after a short illness. Photograph: Jack McManus

It is understood Mr Hume’s death was unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In normal circumstances, Mr Hume’s funeral would be expected to be one of the largest seen on the island for generations but due to coronavirus it must be a more restricted farewell.

The Hume family said on Monday that “John’s funeral will be arranged according to the current government regulations with very strict rules on numbers”.

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.”

Among many tributes, Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Mr Hume as “a great hero and a true peacemaker”.

Former US president Bill Clinton said “his chosen weapons” were “an unshakeable commitment to non-violence, persistence, kindness and love”, while former British prime minister Tony Blair said he was a “political Titan and visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past”.

Current prime minister Boris Johnson described Mr Hume as “a political giant... who did so much to bring an end to the Troubles”.

Confirming Mr Hume’s death on Monday morning, the current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described him as Ireland’s “most significant and consequential political leader” of the 20th century.

Mr Eastwood said it was “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 added: “This is an historic moment on this island but most of all it is a moment of deep, deep sadness. In the days ahead, Ireland will be united in mourning his loss. However amidst that national mourning, it is equally true that the marking of John’s death also opens up a space to reflect on, and celebrate, the magnitude of his life.”

Offering sympathy to his wife Pat and family, Mr Eastwood said that the “Irish nation has lost a giant of its history but his family have lost a husband, a father and a grandfather”.

He said: “In the coming days, weeks and months I know that people will be eager to encase the Hume family in the very same warmth, gentleness and infectious humanity which Pat has shared with everyone she has ever met.

“It is especially poignant that John’s death has occurred as we concluded celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, a time which first awakened his political journey.”

SDLP leader John Hume pictured in January 1987. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times
SDLP leader John Hume pictured in January 1987. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Mr Eastwood said that Mr Hume “achieved the rarest of things in a political career – he became a living statesman”.

“It is telling that John Hume remains the only person to have received the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Martin Luther King Award and of course the Nobel Peace Prize. In truth though and true to his character, the greatest reward for John was not personal recognition – it was instead found in the end to the violence and death which had taken ownership of our streets for far too long.”