The European Parliament is to unveil a sculpture of the late former SDLP leader John Hume, with a ceremony planned for June to honour the Derry man as a European titan of peace and diplomacy.
“John Hume believed that difference should never be the source of hatred and conflict. He brought the conversation about brokering peace in Northern Ireland to Strasbourg, drawing from lessons learned from French and German reconciliation,” European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said.
“At the European Parliament, of which he was a member for 25 years, we celebrate his legacy of peace. His strong voice in defending European values and democracy is one we remember particularly with the return of war on our continent.”
The bronze bust is the work of Dublin-based sculptor Elizabeth O’Kane, who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and worked closely with the Hume family to ensure she captured the likeness of the man she remembers seeing as a child “on television working so hard for peace”.
“Hume said that the European institutions were the greatest example of peace-building institutions in the world and I’d absolutely agree,” O’Kane said. “It’s the biggest honour of my career to sculpt him.”
Mr Hume’s legacy took on a special resonance because Northern Ireland lost its political representation in the European Parliament due to Brexit in the year of his death in 2020.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen described him as “one of the great Europeans” in a subsequent State of the Union address, and the sculpture is a rare honour reflecting how Mr Hume is viewed on the continent as a symbol of peace and diplomacy.
It is also the latest part of post-Brexit efforts in the parliament to continue to include and represent Northern Ireland and its interests, as Irish MEPs have lobbied for structural inclusion of northern representatives.
Former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox, whose career as an MEP overlapped with Mr Hume’s, recalled the “thunderous standing ovation” the Derry man received when addressed the parliament following his awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.
“I can still feel the force of that moment,” he said, adding that Mr Hume was “deeply inspired” by European integration as model for conflict resolution. “Europeans are right to claim him - not uniquely, but to claim him also.”
Weighing 50 kilos, the piece will stand in a prominent position in the Strasbourg parliament and is to be unveiled in a June ceremony with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and high-level European representatives invited to attend.
It is one of four cast as a Hume memorial by O’Kane, two of which have already been installed in the Irish embassies in Washington DC and London, with the final one to be erected in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.