John Hume: Key leaders in build-up to Belfast Agreement pay tribute

Hume ‘committed to pursuing objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means’

 Former US president Bill Clinton and John Hume  at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin in May 2005. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Former US president Bill Clinton and John Hume at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin in May 2005. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins


British prime minister Boris Johnson and two of his predecessors, John Major and Tony Blair, paid tribute on Monday to the late John Hume.

Mr Hume, who died on Monday, “was a political giant”, Mr Johnson said.

“We have lost a great man who did so much to bring an end to the Troubles. Mr Hume had for decades sought to find resolution to the conflict in Northern Ireland by way of dialogue and agreement,” the British leader said.

“He stood proudly in the tradition that was totally opposed to violence and was committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.”

Mr Major said few others invested as much time and energy as Mr Hume in the search for peace, and few sought to change entrenched attitudes with such fierce determination.

“Those whose communities have been transformed into peaceful neighbourhoods may wish to pay tribute to one of the most fervent warriors for peace,” said the former leader of the Conservative Party, who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997. “He has earned himself an honoured place in Irish history.”

‘Peace is possible’

Tony Blair, former head of the Labour Party who served as prime minister from 1997 to 2007, said that when he became prime minister, Mr Hume sat down with him and said: “Peace is possible.”

John Hume genuinely was a political titan,” Mr Blair said. “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.

“It is completely fair to say that without John Hume I think it unlikely there would have been peace in Northern Ireland. He was one of a handful of people who really made it happen.”

Bill Clinton, US president from 1993 to 2001, said he and his wife Hillary were deeply saddened by the passing of their friend “who fought his long war for peace in Northern Ireland”.

“His chosen weapons: an unshakeable commitment to non-violence, persistence, kindness and love.

“With his enduring sense of honour, he kept marching on against all odds towards a brighter future for all the children of Northern Ireland.”

Trina Vargo, founder and president of the US-Ireland Alliance, who worked with Mr Hume when she was a foreign policy adviser to the late Senator Ted Kennedy in the 1990s, said Mr Hume’s vision was “decades ahead of everyone else”.

“His commitment never wavered, he just had to wait for everyone else to catch up with him. It was an honour to have worked with him,” she added.

‘Irrepressible optimism’

Writer Alastair Campbell, a former British government press secretary and strategist for Mr Blair when he was prime minister, said Mr Hume inspired a generation to take seriously the issues he had been dealing with for years.

Mr Campbell said what he remembered most about Mr Hume was “an irrepressible optimism and a positivity” and a belief that no matter how bad things were, they could get better.

Mr Campbell said his outstanding memory of him was in the run-up to the Belfast Agreement in 1998.

“I can remember one particular meeting where he seemed to be the only one who still felt it was going to work,” he said on RTÉ radio.

He could be tough and harsh and have very strong words, but “it was just that relentlessly positivity”, he said.

“And that positivity was fundamental to the whole thing being kept on track.”