For those of us who did not live through the troubles, it is difficult to fathom the impact that John Hume, with other civil rights activists, had on the future of Ireland and its citizens both North and South of the border. One of the giants of Irish politics alongside other historic greats, such as Daniel Ó Connell or Charles Stewart Parnell, he served in the likes of House of Commons to the European Parliament. Hume always maintained his principles of nonviolence and compromise. With his recent passing, aged 83, it is time to take stock of what Hume did for the people of both the Republic and Northern Ireland, where political discourse can take place without the overhanging threat of violence, where institutions can work for the betterment of their citizens, and a place where you are not discriminated against due to religion or creed.
Hume was born in 1937, in Derry. He was the son of a former soldier and part time docker. His mother was a housewife who would often make shirts to supplement the family’s income. Hume had initially trained for the priesthood in the catholic seminary of Maynooth. He would however leave the seminary and marry a schoolteacher - Patricia. On his return to his native Derry he would play a leading role in the establishment of the city’s first Credit Union. He would also be the organisations youngest national president aged 26.
In the early days of Hume’s activism, he was an advocate for nonviolence with the backdrop of paramilitary attacks from both sides of the community as well as a heavy police and army presence on the streets of Northern Ireland. It is during this time when Hume began his advocacy for nonviolence. Hume would be one of the founding members of the SDLP, which acted as an alternative to the significantly different Sinn Fein, as the SDLP totally rejected violence. One of the main reasons as to why attempts of peace failed was due to the exclusion of Sinn Fein. This would also become one of the main achievements of Hume’s career, was to get Sinn Fein around the negotiation table. Hume’s involvement with local communities helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. This is exemplified through his several trips to America partially with the help of George Mitchell and former President Bill Clinton. Hume has also been described as a proud European. Using his voice within the European parliament to champion peace. Speaking at the European Parliament he expressed how difference is of the essence of humanity.
Through several years of secret talks and negotiations with all sides attempting to find compromise; The Good Friday Agreement was constructed in August 1998. Even during and after negotiations Northern Ireland was still plagued by violence such as the Omagh bombings in August that year. Nonetheless, peace prevailed. Hume would help change northern Irish politics from green vs orange to issues that effected people in their everyday lives such as education and health care. For his work, alongside David Trimble, was awarded the Nobel peace prize. For those who lived through the troubles or now live with loved ones no longer around because of the conflict, know the pain and heartache that the violence caused. The Troubles normalized violence and destruction. Because of people like John Hume our generation can feel safe and secure and now have the privilege to exert international discourse, by going from a war-zone, to winning a seat on the UN Security Council.