John Hume created a light of hope in difficult times, says President

Politicians pay tribute to former SDLP leader who was ‘a great hero and a true peacemaker’

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’.


President Michael D Higgins has led tributes by politicians and public figures to former SDLP leader and peacemaker John Hume who has died after a long illness, aged 83.

Mr Higgins said that through his astute diplomacy and willingness to listen to the views of others he “transformed and remodelled politics in Ireland, and the search for peace”.

He said he showed a personal bravery and leadership “informed by a steadfast belief in the principles and values of genuine democracy”.

Describing the Nobel Peace Prize winner as a statesman, the President said “how deeply grateful we all should be that we had such a person as John Hume to create a light of hope in the most difficult of times”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD described Mr Hume as “a great hero and a true peacemaker”.

In tribute to the former SDLP leader Mr Martin said that “throughout his long life he exhibited not just courage, but also fortitude, creativity and an utter conviction that democracy and human rights must define any modern society”.

“During the darkest days of paramilitary terrorism and sectarian strife, he kept hope alive. And with patience, resilience and unswerving commitment, he triumphed and delivered a victory for peace.

“While the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was the product of many people’s work, can anyone really claim that it would have happened without John Hume?”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said “he ended 800 years of conflict between Britain and Ireland”. His death “represents the loss of 20th-century Ireland’s most significant and consequential political figure”.

DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said Mr Hume was a “giant in Irish nationalism” who left his unique mark in the House of Commons, Brussels and Washington.

“In our darkest days he recognised that violence was the wrong path and worked steadfastly to promote democratic politics,” she said.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Mr Hume “was a huge figure in Irish politics for many years and was known the world over for his peace making efforts”.

“His work alongside Gerry Adams in the Hume-Adams talks were instrumental in creating the space for developing and progressing the peace process which led to the Good Friday agreement,” she said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar described Mr Hume as “a once-in-a-generation leader whose vision for peace was only surpassed by his hard work in making that vision a reality”.

“He leaves behind a legendary legacy of peace, progress and stability. His hard work and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

‘Towering figure’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Hume was a “towering figure in Irish politics, who took decisions that were not popular in his own ranks in the pursuit of peace”.

“His actions helped to shape the peace process and he was central to the negotiation of the Good Friday agreement,” she said.

Former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with him in 1998, said Mr Hume would be remembered “for the fact that right from the outset of the Troubles in Northern Ireland he was opposed to violence” and that people had to achieve their objectives by peaceful and democratic means.

John Hume pictured with Seamus Mallon, who died in January. Photograph: Alan Betson
John Hume pictured with Seamus Mallon, who died in January. Photograph: Alan Betson

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mr Hume would stand with Charles Stewart Parnell and Daniel O’Connell as a giant of Irish history.

“He gave a high example in public service and he was shrewd and astute politician, who played a distinguished role in making peace in Ireland and in shaping the Good Friday Agreement.”

“At times when violence and hatred was in the ascendancy and it looked like a political solution would never be reached, John Hume stood steadfast for reconciliation.”

Former taoiseach John Bruton said Mr Hume was “the pivotal figure of the 20th century in the development of thinking about Ireland’s future”.

“He reframed the problem from being one about who held sovereignty over land, to being one about people, and how they related to one another.”

The issue “was no longer one about winning or losing but about sharing or choosing not to share” and “he won the argument”.

Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said when others “were stuck in the ritual politics of condemnation John Hume had the courage to take risks for peace”.

He said it was a “breakthrough moment in Irish history” when Mr Hume agreed to meet him in 1986 through an invitation from Fr Alex Reid.

His most significant contribution to the peace process was at that point “he still continued in talks with me”, despite vilification from the establishment.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said Mr Hume’s “huge contribution” to political life in Northern Ireland was “inarguable, even by those who would have regarded themselves as political opponents”.

“Throughout the long dark decades of the Troubles, John Hume consistently offered constitutionalism nationalism, a peaceful alternative to the violent republicanism of the IRA, which he recognised was utterly futile,” he said.

Former president Mary McAleese said he “had a capacity for patience and endurance like no one else I have ever met”. She said he was “God’s gift to all of us”.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said “John Hume genuinely was a political titan.

“His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was extraordinary, I don’t think we would ever have really got the peace process going and implemented if he hadn’t been there.”

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan described John Hume as the “pathfinder” for the Belfast Agreement and said its “blueprint” was based on his analysis.

Mr Durkan who succeeded Mr Hume as MP for Derry said “many people dismissed the Hume analysis that there were three sets of relationships that had to be resolved - inside the North, within the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain”. But “they became the agenda for the all party talks which were in three strands” and exactly reflected John Hume’s analysis.