John Hume: Statesman and Peace Builder



John Hume always struck me as someone who was truly principled and honourable. Throughout his entire life and political career, he steadfastly abided by his ethos and philosophy of non-violence and democracy. When others resorted to the bomb and the bullet, he stuck to the ballot box. Surely that must mark him out as someone unique and distinctive among a generation that largely looked to violence as the answer. Despite being a nationalist in his outlook, Hume was resolutely opposed to violence from whatever quarter it originated. After the long and dark years of the Troubles, Hume’s philosophy eventually won out as others realised that ultimately it was the only viable way to end the conflict here. For that, Hume deserves great credit indeed.


The SDLP leader cared deeply about his home city, Derry and the people of Northern Ireland. He was instrumental in creating the first ever Credit Union in the city and he promoted and championed Londonderry to US companies such as Seagate when in Washington, ultimately persuading them to come to the city. Hume fought vigorously for civil rights for Catholics and Nationalists in the 1960s in the teeth of opposition from the Stormont administration at the time. Hume represented the people of Derry at Stormont and Westminster over many years and even at one point served as an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for Northern Ireland. He even undertook secret discussions with Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams during the 1980s and 1990s to attempt to bring the party to the negotiating table, despite the controversy and criticism that he encountered from many. John Hume was motivated not by his own interests or that of the SDLP but by those of the people he served and represented. Isn’t that something we could all learn to do a little more in our lives?


I have always been amazed by how John Hume treated those with whom he disagreed or who opposed him. Baroness Paisley, the wife of former DUP leader and Northern Irish First Minister the late Ian Paisley Snr, told the News Letter newspaper that Dr Paisley and Mr Hume “had respect for one another’s beliefs, religiously and politically, and they still talked together” even when they disagreed. She added that “it was not nasty” when her husband and Mr Hume disagreed. This ability to speak with those he disagreed with marks out Mr Hume as an example to our political generation today who have seemingly lost the ability that John Hume possessed and exhibited. Earlier, I alluded to Hume’s talks with Gerry Adams. This is another example of Hume’s maturity and respect for people that despite his own profound discomfort, he placed the imperative of peace above his own concerns. He spoke to the extremes to ensure that there was peace for all. I wonder if any of our politicians today would do that?


I have heard many tributes to John Hume from all quarters. The list is not exhaustive but includes the Dalai Llama, the Pope, former Prime Ministers and Taoiseachs, the current Prime Minister and Taoiseach, the First and Deputy First Ministers, a former US President and the Northern Irish Secretary. Very few if any politicians can claim to command such widespread respect, support and love. John Hume was part of a generation of politicians who sacrificed everything for peace. However Hume truly made the ultimate sacrifice; he put his city and Northern Ireland first. We will forever remember his contribution to securing the peaceful future that has benefited all of us.


Finally, I would like to convey my condolences to Pat and the rest of Mr Hume’s family, his friends including those in his SDLP family and the people of Derry.


John Hume, thank you and may you rest in peace.

Peter Wilson is a 17 year old student studying A Levels in Politics, History and Sociology. He is a member of Alliance and the Liberal Democrats. His interests include local politics, British politics and Irish politics.

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2020