John Hume
Hume in 1998
Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party
In office
6 May 1979 – 6 November 2001
DeputySeamus Mallon
Preceded byGerry Fitt
Succeeded byMark Durkan
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Foyle
In office
25 June 1998 – 1 December 2000
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byAnnie Courtney
Member of Parliament
for Foyle
In office
9 June 1983 – 11 April 2005[1]
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byMark Durkan
Member of the European Parliament
for Northern Ireland
In office
10 June 1979 – 13 June 2004
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byBairbre de Brún
Member of the
Parliament of Northern Ireland
for Foyle
In office
24 February 1969 – 30 March 1972
Preceded byEddie McAteer
Succeeded byParliament abolished
Personal details
Born(1937-01-18)18 January 1937
Derry, Northern Ireland
Died3 August 2020(2020-08-03) (aged 83)
Derry, Northern Ireland
Political partySocial Democratic and Labour Party
Pat Hone
(m. 1960)
Alma materSt Patrick's College, Maynooth

John Hume KCSG (18 January 1937 – 3 August 2020) was an Irish nationalist politician in Northern Ireland and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. A founder and leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Derry native served in the Northern Ireland Parliament; the Northern Ireland Assembly including, in 1974, its first power-sharing executive; the European Parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament. Seeking an accommodation between Irish nationalism and Ulster unionism, and soliciting American support, he criticised British government policy in Northern ireland and opposed the republican embrace of "armed struggle". In their 1998 citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee recognised Hume as an architect of the "Good Friday" Belfast Agreement. For himself, Hume wished to be remembered as having been, in his earlier years, a pioneer of the credit union movement.

Early life and education

Hume was born in 1937 into a working-class Catholic family in Derry, the eldest of seven children of Anne "Annie" (née Doherty), a seamstress, and Samuel Hume, a former soldier and shipyard worker.[5] He had a mostly Irish Catholic background, though his surname derived from one of his great-grandfathers, a Scottish Presbyterian who migrated to County Donegal.[6]

Hume was among the first to benefit from the 1947 Education Act.[7]: 9  which in Northern Ireland "revolutionised access to secondary and further education".[8]: 45  It provided him with scholarships, first to attend St Columb's College, a fee-paying grammar school, and then St Patrick's College, Maynooth, the leading Catholic seminary in Ireland and a recognised college of the National University of Ireland, where he intended to study for the priesthood. Among his teachers was Tomás Ó Fiaich.[9]

Ó Fiaich's colleague, Monsignor Brendan Devlin recalls that the future cardinal and Primate of All Ireland turned his student (with whom he spoke in Irish) towards the local history of Ulster, but that being a Derry man, Hume "didn't need much pushing".[7]: 17 

You begin to ask questions ... how did this come around. I grew up in a city surrounded by battlements. Everything inside the battlement was Protestant and everything in the slums was Catholic. Is this normal in the city? Is this a normal city? And it you have any brains at all you begin to find out it is not. You know, it's not normal and the government of the city is gerrymandered. My crowd is getting no show at all. There must be a reason for this. And, of course, John got into all that.[7]: 19 

Hume did not complete his clerical studies but graduated in 1958 with a degree in French and history. In 1958, he returned home to his native Derry, where he became a teacher at his Alma mater, St Columb's College, later, in 1964, earning an MA from Maynooth with a thesis exploring the conditions that drove Derry's principal export in the 19th century, emigrants.[10]

First civic and political engagement

Credit-union movement

In 1960, aged 23, Hume helped establish the Derry Credit Union, the first cooperative community bank in Northern Ireland. Pooling their resources, working people were able to create a low-interest alternative to moneylenders and pawn shops.[11] Such was the success of this exercise in what he represented as "practical Christianity",[12]: 20  that within four years Hume had become the youngest ever President of the Irish League of Credit Unions, a role in which he served until 1968. He was later to remark that of all the things he contributed to in his life, he was proudest of his engagement with credit unions, no movement having done "more good for the people of Ireland, north and south".[13]

The "Third Force"

In the 1963, drawing on his Maynooth thesis research, Hume wrote a script for a television documentary on Derry, "A City Solitary", that was broadcast on both the BBC and RTÉ.[7]: 31–32  It persuaded The Irish Times to open its pages to the "first considered statement" of Hume's political views[14]: 33–34 

In "The Northern Catholic" (18 and 19 May 1964) Hume wrote of an emerging "third force": a "generation of younger Catholics in the North" frustrated with the nationalist policy of non-recognition and abstention. Determined to engage the great social problems of housing, unemployment and emigration, they were willing to accept "the Protestant tradition in the North as legitimate" and that Irish unity should be achieved only "by the will of the Northern majority."[15]

"Normal politics" would not emerge in Northern Ireland from Catholic engagement alone. Much would depend on the responsiveness of the northern government whose "skillful placing" of investment was contributing to exceptionally high Catholic unemployment and emigration. If the governing unionists failed to respond to "repeated statements of Catholic willingness to get together", he warned that there would be a hardening of opinion and further polarisation.[14]: 34 

Hume first test of the possibilities for change was as chair in 1965 of the University for Derry Committee,[12]: 22–23  When, in the fight for the placement of Northern Ireland's second university, the city lost out to Coleraine, and when later the same year Derry again lost to Lurgan and Portadown for a new urban-industrial development, Hume sensed a wider conspiracy. Addressing a meeting in London of the Labour Party ginger group, Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, he suggested that "the plan" was "to cause a migration from West to East Ulster, redistributing and scattering the minority to that the Unionist Party will not only maintain but strengthen its position".[16]

Involved in voluntary housing movement in his home city, Hume argued that (notwithstanding "excellent assistance" form the Ministry of Development),[12]: 20  he battled the same sectarian-political logic within Derry itself. A unionist minority secured majority control of the city council through gerrymandering which involved restricting planning permission for potential Catholic homes.[14]: 38–39 [17]: 648 

Citizens Action Committee, Derry 1968

On 5 October 1968, the Derry Labour Party and Derry Housing Action Committee proceeded with a march in the city, originally sponsored by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), in defiance of a last-minute order by the government alarmed at the prospect of a clash with parading Apprentice Boys. Hume, had had no part in the organisation. He had refused an invitation to set up a NICRA branch in his home city wary of its infiltration such left-wing activists as Derry socialist Eamon McCann[7]: 48  whose "conscious, if unspoken strategy", as he later conceded, "was to provoke the police into overreaction and thus spark off mass reaction against the authorities".[18]: 91 Hume appeared on the day but, in the recollection of McCann, walked on the pavement alongside the march, "half there and half not".[7]: 53–54 

A later official inquiry found that all that had been required for police to begin "using their batons indiscriminately" against the 400 protesters was defiance of the initial order to disperse. The Duke Street march sparked two days of street fighting as protesters and residents resisted the entry of the RUC into the Catholic Bogside.[19] Hume, elected vice-chair of a new Citizens’ Action Committee (CAC), called for a sit-down protest at the Guildhall two weeks later. A further peaceful demonstration organised and stewarded by CAC on 16 November attracted 15,000. With the government appearing to respond, both Hume's committee and NICRA called for a suspension of further protests.[20][21]: 102–107 

Political career

Hume with US president Bill Clinton in 1995

Enters electoral politics

In response to the events in Derry, the Unionist government announced that the city's corporation would be replaced by an independent development commission. It also committed to a needs-based points system for public housing; an ombudsman to investigate citizen grievances; the abolition of the rates-based franchise in council elections; and a review of the broad security provisions of the Special Powers Act.[22] When these reforms were placed in jeopardy by the internal unionist dissention, and a snap election was called by Prime Minister Terence O'Neill, Hume decided to enter electoral politics.[14]: 39 

In the February 1969 poll he secured 55 percent of vote in his home Foyle constituency against 33 percent for the standing MP and long-time leader of the Nationalist Party, Eddie McAteer, and 12 percent for McCann, Northern Ireland Labour. Notwithstanding their contest, six months later, on 12 August 1969, Hume linked arms with McAteer in an attempt to hold back his constituents in a further confrontation with the police, recalled as the Battle of the Bogside.[17]: 666–667 

In the election Hume had presented himself as an independent, but his immediate objective was the formation of a broad progressive party that could advance the wider reform he believed necessary.[14]: 39 

Forms the SDLP

In August 1970, Hume became deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) which he formed with five other Stormont MPs: Gerry Fitt, Republican Labour Party; Austin Currie, Nationalist Party; Paddy Devlin, Northern Ireland Labour Party; and independents, NICRA activists Ivan Cooper and Paddy O’Hanlon. Hume had opted for the term "Social Democratic", but Fitt and Devlin had insisted that without "Labour" in its title, the party would not be acceptable to their working-class voters in Belfast.[7]: 89 

Not embraced in the new party was Bernadette Devlin, who had received 6 months in jail for her part in the defence of the Bogside, and who in April 1969 had made international headlines on being returned in a Mid Ulster by-election as a 21 year-old "Unity" MP to Westminster. Viewing her as having gone "wholly over to the International Socialists in Britain", Hume described her as a "disaster".[7]: 73  Neither did it extend to those, previously pro-O'Neill unionists, nationalists and rights activists, who in April 1970 formed the Alliance Party. They had courted Hume, but he refused the invitation to join their cross-community grouping.[7]: 84–85 

In their initial statements, Hume and his colleagues insisted that, while (like Alliance) they would prioritise the socio-economic above the constitutional question, a united Ireland was one of their aims.[23] They were soon to decide, however, that Stormont offered no prospects for a broader agenda. In June 1971, Hume told party activists that their efforts were failing, and it was time to consider scrapping the 1920 Government of Ireland Act.[7]: 93  In July, when the Unionist government refused to authorise a public inquiry into the fatal shooting by the British Army of two men in Derry, the SDLP withdrew from Stormont, declaring it unreformable.[24]

For Hume, this left the party with two salient features. First (noting that Cooper, among other founding members, was Protestant) he emphasised that the party was non sectarian: "the important issue" for the SDLP was "human rights not religion".[14]: 57  Second, in its commitment to Irish unification—to a new all-Ireland constitution that would provide "the framework for the emergence of a just, egalitarian and secular society"—it eschewed political violence.[23]

Response to the onset of the Provisional campaign and to internment

Responding to the developing campaign of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), Hume proposed that armed republicans could best serve the cause of Irish unity by disbanding: "violence and the threat of it only strengthens unionism, it only deepens and heightens sectarian divisions which represent the real border in our country".[14]: 58  Taking issue with the essential premise of PIRA's "drive-out-the-Brits" strategy, he argued:

[T]he struggle against partition is not, as the struggle for independence was, a struggle against a foreign and occupying power. It is a struggle to bring together two sections of the Irish people, and how can anyone imagine ... that violence by one section against the other can unite them. Reform and reconciliation are the only way ....[14]: 59 

In relation to those who "who have no respect for human life and seem to think that human lives are expendable as a means of achieving political ends", there should be no "fence-sitting".[14]: 60–61 

At the same time, Hume protested the government's resort in August 1971 to a policy of internment that saw large numbers of Catholics detained and interrogated.[25][26] On 22 January 1972, he led along along Benone beach (he was reassured those who might wish to throw stones would have only sand underfoot)[7]: 100  toward the perimeter of the Magilligan internment camp. They were driven back with baton charges and canisters of CS gas.Fearing the consequences ("if they stopped a march on the beach, what were they going to do in the city"),[7]: 101  a week later Hume sat out a NICRA organised march in Derry. At the end the day, Sunday 30 January 1972, the Parachute Regiment had shot 26 unarmed civilians, killing 14. Faced with a choice between "repression or change of system", it was evident to Hume that the British as choosing repression.[14]: 62  He compared the killings to the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa.)[7]: 104  Yet in the wake of Bloody Sunday, he continued to insist on a non-violent response. In August 1972, his party initiated a campaign of civil disobedience that by October had 16,000 households withholding council house rent and rates.[25]

Minister in the first power-sharing executive

In March 1972, the London government prorogued the Northern Ireland Parliament and imposed direct rule "not merely to restore order but to reshape the Province's system of government".[27] In the interim, Hume, together with Paddy Devlin, had his first experience of mediating between the Provisional IRA and the British government: 18 days of cease-fire assisted contacts that PIRA decisively broke off with Bloody Friday. On 21 July, PIRA set off 21 bombs across Belfast killing 9 and injuring 130.[7]: 110 

In October 1972, the government brought out a Green Paper, The Future of Northern Ireland, which seemed to embrace much of Hume's analysis.[14]: 80  While Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom for as long as that is the wish of a majority of the people, the government would take into account the "Irish Dimension" of the unfolding crisis: it would seek to accommodate the legitimate interests both of the minority in Northern Ireland that saw themselves as "simply part of the wider Irish community", and of the Republic of Ireland to whom it committed to make any new arrangements "as far as possible acceptable".[28]

On this basis, and following an election in June 1973 of a new Northern Ireland Assembly in which the SDLP emerged as the sole representatives of nationalist community, Hume and his colleagues reached an agreement to enter into "power-sharing" executive with Unionists under their former Prime Minister Brian Faulkner as chief executive. SDLP leader Gerry Fitt was to be Faulkner's deputy, and Hume Minister of Commerce. The parties signed their coalition agreement at Sunningdale in England on 9 December and took up office on 1 January 1974.

Hume had acted in direct defiance of PIRA intimidation. At the time of the agreement they had botched an attempt to kidnap his daughter Aine, in case of mistaken identity bundling a schoolmate into a car and driving her across the border.[29][7]: 115 

From the outset of the negotiations, Hume had been under pressure to demonstrate that there was a prospective path to ending partition, so that he might respond to the general "unificationist feeling" among nationalists that had followed the closure of Stormont,[30]: 39  and at the same time fend off the challenge from PIRA who were continuing to draw on public outrage over Bloody Sunday and the slow indiing down of internment.[7]: 110 [18]: 141 

Hume highlighted the agreement’s return to an original feature of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the Council of ireland. He described the cross border ministerial and parliamentary forum as "a continuing conference table" at which "Catholic, Protestant, Planter and Gael" could explore the bases for unity.[14]: 86  In retrospect, Hume's executive colleague Paddy Devlin regretted the SDLP had not "adopted a two stage approach, by allowing power sharing at Stormont to establish itself". He recalls all other considerations being overridden by the drive to get Council established in the hope of producing "the dynamic that would lead ultimately to an agreed united Ireland".[31]: 205 

Already in February, a surprise Westminster election had left Faulkner's pro-Assembly grouping with just 13% of the unionist vote. Arguing that they had deprived Faulkner of any semblance of a mandate, the victorious United Ulster Unionist Coalition called for new Assembly elections. When these were refused, a loyalist coalition, the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC), called a general strike. Within two weeks the UWC, supported by the loyalist paramilitaries, had an effective stranglehold on energy supplies.[32] Arguing with what Faulkner regarded as "exasperating dogmatism",[33]: 428  Hume would neither delay the Council, nor accept the condition now sought for its introduction by pro-executive unionists: the repeal of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution claiming Northern Ireland as the Republic's national territory.[34] Instead, Hume pressed for a British Army enforced fuel-oil plan and for resistance to "a fascist takeover".[35][36] On 28 May, Faulkner, finding the new Northern Ireland Secretary, Mervyn Rees, willing neither to reopen political negotiations nor to confront the strikers, resigned. Conceding that there was no longer any constitutional basis for the Executive, Rees dissolved the Assembly.[31]: 242–247 [33]: 425–426  Hume continued to insist that the executive might have survived had Rees taken a tougher stand.[7]: 140 

Party leader, MEP and lobbyist in the United States

In defending the Sunningdale agreement, Hume suggested that it had been "purely on the basis of [their] agreed economic and social policies that members of the executive had come together", and that to consider the case for state intervention, worker democracy and a radical approach to poverty they would do so again.[37]: 88  Paddy Devlin was not convinced: arguing that the SDLP “was being stripped of its socialism and being taken over by unadulterated nationalists”, he resigned from the party in 1977.[38] When, in 1979, Fitt likewise suggested that the SDLP, in prioritising the "Irish Dimension" over the trust required for power sharing,[39]: 99 [7]: 140  had gone "too green",[40] that it had become simply a "Catholic nationalist party",[41] Hume replaced him as party leader.[42] The changeover failed to quell dissention within the party: some members complained of Hume's autocratic style.[43]

Earlier that year, Hume had been elected (with 24.6% of first preference votes) as one of Northern Ireland's three Members of the European Parliament. He was to hold his seat in Strasbourg for five terms, until his retirement in 2004.[44] He joined the Socialist Group in the Parliament, and for almost all his time as an MEP was a member of the group’s bureau.[45] Hume saw the then European Community as a model for reconciliation through the construction of shared political and social institutions. His early contributions, as a champion of protections for minority languages, emphasised the cultural diversity the Community was able to accommodate.[46]: 110 

Hume also saw the European project as an opportunity for representatives of the rival traditions in the north to cooperate in a context free of local prejudices and history.[14]: 104  In lobbying for special economic development assistance for Northern Ireland, he gave practical demonstration of this by working closely with his two unionist MEP colleagues. This included the man regarded at home as his nemesis, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley.[45] In September 1983, Hume went on a nine-day investment promotion tour of North America in the company of Paisley[47] to whom, six months before, the U.S. State Department had denied a visa citing a "record of inflammatory actions and statements ... contrary to the interest of the United States in the achievement of a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland".[48]

In the United States, Hume had developed close relations with U.S. House Speaker Tip O'Neill, U.S. Senators Ted Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan, and New York Governor Hugh Carey. With their support, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter issued a statement promising U.S. assistance in the event of Northern Ireland reaching a new cross-party agreement.[14]: 104  They were also supported Hume in his efforts to dissuade Irish Americans from funding the Provisional republican movement. He cautioned those contributing to NORAID that they were supporting a "vicious parody" of Irish republicanism that, as first set forth by the United Irishmen, properly rests on the "brotherhood" of Catholic and Protestant.[14]: 103 

Stands SDLP aside in Hunger Strike elections, exchanges with Adams

When in March 1981, Sinn Féin put forward PIRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands as the Anti H-Block candidate for a Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, Hume prevented his party colleague, Austin Currie, from entering the contest.[43] In what he regarded as "a no-win situation", Hume also deferred to Sinn Féin's nominated successor for the seat, Owen Carron, when a month after his election Sands died.[39]: 123–124  "Sometimes", Hume later commented, "in politics you are faced with two wrong choices".[7]: 166  Papers reveal that Irish ministers and officials regarded this at the time as a mistake and as "a major triumph for the IRA".[49] Together with the continued swelling of support in Ireland and internationally as nine further hunger strikers died, by standing aside the SDLP is seen as having accommodated the first steps of the Provisional republican movement on the political path that would ultimately see Sinn Féin in 2007 supplant the party as the principal representative of nationalism.[50]: 525–526 [51][52]

In the Westminster general election of June 1983, with double the vote Hume saw off a challenge in the new Westminster constituency of Foyle from the sometime PIRA commander in Derry,[53] Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness. But the same election saw SDLP's Joe Hendron draw votes from Fttt in Belfast West but loose the seat to Gerry Adams, like McGuinness an abstentionist Sinn Féin candidate.

Hume and Adams had spoken together secretly on several occasion before, in January 1988, being brought together at the Clonard Monastery in west Belfast by the Redemptorist priest Alec Reid.[54][55] Through Reid, they exchanged documents outlining each party's position on ways to end the conflict. Hume again tackled Adams on the central premises of the PIRA campaign. It was not enough, he argued, to suggest that the British presence was the cause of all the violence in Ireland. The question was whether the provisional republican movement would take responsibility for the suffering and loss caused by the choices it had made in responding to that presence, and whether it would accept that the "armed struggle" had not advanced the agreement needed for the divided country to exercise its right to sovereignty.[14]: 198–200 

When Adams and Sinn Féin leadership refused to accept the need for an end to the PIRA campaign, when it was clear that their strategy would remain that of "the ballot box and the armalite", Hume publicly restated his moral and political rejection of their methods.[56]

Their decision ... to use guns and bombs to "persuade" their Protestant fellow Irishmen is not only an example of an extreme lack of faith in their own beliefs or in the credibility of them, it is an attitude of extreme moral cowardice and a deeply partitionist attitude. For its real effect is to deepen the essential divisions among the Irish people

He proposed that if he were "to lead a civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland today", it would be against the IRA.

It is they [the IRA] who carry out the greatest infringements of human and civil rights, whether it is their murders, their executions without trial, their kneecappings and punishment shootings, their bombing of jobs and people. The most fundamental right is the right to life. Who in Northern Ireland takes most human lives in a situation where there is not one single injustice that justifies the taking of human life?

The statistics, he observed, were "devastating": "people describing themselves as Irish republicans" had killed "six times as many human beings as the British army, thirty times as many as the RUC, and 250 times as many as the UDR" and, as for being "defenders" of their community, they had killed twice as many Catholics as the security forces and in the previous ten years more than the loyalists.[14]: 203–204 

Anglo-Irish Agreement, renewed dialogue

In the New Ireland Forum, an SDLP conference with the southern parties Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Hume affirmed the principle that a new Ireland could be achieved only with unionist agreement and support: "we seek a solution, not a victory". Yet a month later, in June 1983, Hume in his maiden speech in the British House of Commons, and in subsequent debates, called on the government to reconsider its consistent policy--"that there will be no change in the constitutional position of the Northern Ireland without the majority's consent". This might seem democratic but, given the "majority that is being guaranteed was created artificially by a sectarian headcount", he argued that it sustained a "solidified sectarianism".[14]: 142, 158 

In 1985, the government appeared to relent. Disregarding universal unionist opposition, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed an agreement with the Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald that for the first time gave the Republic a direct role in the government of Northern Ireland. An Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, with a locally based secretariat, would invite the Irish government to "put forward views on proposals" for major legislation concerning Northern Ireland. Proposals, however, would only be on matters that are "not the responsibility of a devolved administration in Northern Ireland". The implication for unionists was that if they wished to limit Dublin's influence, they would have to climb down from insistence on majority rule and think again as to how nationalists might be accommodated.[57]

Party colleague Seamus Mallon credited Hume for the perceived breakthrough. His leader had spent so much time and effort cultivating ties in Washington, New York and Boston because, with Britain reluctant to challenge the unionist veto, "the only place from where that pressure could come was from the US". He recalled that Thatcher (who in the Brighton bombing the year before had only narrowly escaped IRA assassination) had said after implementation of the Anglo-Irish agreement that "it was the American who made me do it.[58][59] But her government's calculation may also been driven by the fear of Sinn Féin replacing the SDLP as the voice of northern nationalism.[33]: 427 

In March 1991, the Ulster Unionists and Paisley's Democratic Unionists agreed with Hume arrangements for political talks on the future of Northern Ireland.[60] In their submission to the inter-party talks in 1992, the Ulster Unionists (then still the largest party) said they could envisage a range of cross-border bodies so long as these were under the control of the Northern Assembly, did not involve an overarching all-Ireland Council, and were not designed to be developed in the direction of joint authority.[61] In the course of the talks, Hume acknowledged the provisional republican movement as "the one organisation that could make the greatest contribution" to an agreed future, and he secretly renewed contact with Adams. Again he challenged Adams and his comrades on their justifications for violence. Their "whataboutery" was unconvincing. British outrages should not be seen as providing the standards for republican behavior.[14]: 243 

Good Friday, negotiating the inclusion of the Provisional republican movement

Over British objections, in January 1994 President Clinton allowed Adams to make the journey Hume had been taking since the 1970s. Although it was on a 48-hour visa limited to New York City, Adams has described his visit to the United States as "pivotal" to the subsequent peace process.[62] Together with the Alliance Party's John Alderdice, Hume joined Adams at an event hosted by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy at the Waldorf Astoria.[63][64] Two months later the IRA declared a three-day "cessation of hostilities" and then, believing that "an opportunity to secure a just and lasting settlement has been created", in August declared its first ceasefire since 1975.[65]

Adams acknowledged Hume's assistance "in the background"[62] and, after their contact was exposed (in April 1993, Adams had been spotted going into Hume’s house in Derry)[29] the extent to which Hume was "pilloried, vilified and condemned" by the British government, most political parties and large sections of the media.[66] Adams, himself, greatly intensified pressure. In October 1993, PIRA Volunteer Thomas Begley was killed carrying a bomb into a shop on Belfast’s Shankill Road that took the lives of nine other people and injured sixty. Pat Hume recalls that when, days later, her husband watched television footage of Adams carrying the coffin at Begley's funeral he started to cry: “He was not able to sleep. He was not eating properly. There were all sorts of vicious letters arriving in the post, vicious phone calls coming".[29]

At the time of the August 1994 ceasefire, Hume and Adams issued a joint declaration. It affirmed that a lasting settlement had to be based "on the right of the Irish people as a whole to national self-determination", but conceded Hume's consistent position.

The exercise of this right [to self-determination] is, of course, a matter for agreement between all the people of Ireland and we reiterate that such a new agreement is only viable if it enjoys the allegiance of the different traditions on this island by accommodating diversity and providing for national reconciliation.[14]: 265 

PIRA twice disrupted what was now referred to as the "peace process" by ending their ceasefire, which in turn reinforced the Unionists in their demand that PIRA disarm as a condition of Sinn Féin's admission to inter-party talks. Hume helped get around this by proposing an international body on arms decommissioning to be headed by President Clinton's envoy to the peace process, Senator George Mitchell.[14]: 282–284  (After Trimble resigned as First Minister in 2001, bringing down the first, UUP-SDLP-led, post-Agreement executive, Mitchell's report was the basis on which PIRA finally agreed procedures to put its weaponry "beyond use", a process not completed until 2005).[67]

In the Multi-Party Agreement signed in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998, Hume and Adams conceded the Ulster Unionist conditions for cross-border bodies,[68]: 1155–1157 [69] and the amendment of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. In return, the unionists had to accept that a new power-sharing executive would not, as in 1974, be a voluntary coalition. On a principle of elective inclusion which Hume and his SDLP team had been alone in proposing,[70] seats at the ministerial table would be allocated to Assembly parties on the proportional D'Hondt system. This meant that that unionists could not avoid sitting across from, and sharing office with, those they had continued to describe as "Sinn Féin-IRA".[71]



When on 1 July 1998, the new Northern Ireland Assembly nominated the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble as First Minister, it was expected that Hume, as the leader of the largest nationalist party, would assume the joint office of Deputy First Minister. Instead, he handed this role to Séamus Mallon. Some political journalists cited a "reserved" relationship between Hume and Trimble, despite the two men having together received the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize.[72]

In their citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee observed that over the thirty years of national, religious and social conflict in Northern Ireland, John Hume had been "the clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland’s political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution. The foundations of the peace agreement signed on Good Friday 1998 reflect principles which he has stood for".[73]

Hume has been the only person to combine the Nobel Peace Prize with two other major international peace awards, the Martin Luther Award (1999) and the Gandhi Peace Prize (2001).[74]

In 2010, Hume topped a viewer poll by the Irish national broadcaster RTÉ as "Ireland's Greatest" ahead of Michael Collins, Mary Robinson, James Connolly, and Bono.[75][76]

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made Hume a Knight Commander of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great.[77]


Hume in 2008

On 4 February 2004, Hume announced his complete retirement from politics and was succeeded by Mark Durkan as SDLP leader.[78] He did not contest the 2004 European election (when his seat was won by Bairbre de Brún of Sinn Féin),[79] nor did he run in the 2005 general election, in which Mark Durkan retained the Foyle constituency for the SDLP.[80]

Hume and his wife, Pat,[81] continued to be active in promoting European integration, issues around global poverty and the Credit Union movement. He was also a supporter of the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organisation which campaigns for democratic reformation of the United Nations.[82] In retirement, he continued to speak publicly, including a visit to Seton Hall University in New Jersey in 2005, the first Summer University of Democracy of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 10–14 July 2006), and at St Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, on 18 July 2007. A building added to the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, was named after him. Hume held the position of Club President of his local football team, Derry City F.C., which he supported all his life.[83] He was a patron of the children's charity Plan International Ireland.[84][85]


In 1960, Hume married Patricia "Pat" Hone (22 February 1938 – 2 September 2021), a primary school teacher, whom he had first met two years earlier at a dancehall in Muff, County Donegal. The couple had five children - Thérèse, Áine, Aidan, John and Mo - as well as 16 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.[86] The family was not always shielded from the invective and threats directed John Hume. In addition to the attempted kidnapping of Áine in 1973, Thérèse Hume recalls: “a lot of threatening letters, threatening phone calls, bullets sent in the post one time, a couple of bullets sent at different times. That kind of thing was going on for quite a while and there was an undercurrent of nastiness”.[29]


President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola unveiling a bust of Hume in the European Parliament in Strasbourg (2022)

In 2015, Hume was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, of which he had first displayed symptoms in the late 1990s.[87] Hume died in the early hours of 3 August 2020 at a nursing home in Derry, at the age of 83.[88] On his death, former Labour leader and prime minister Tony Blair said: "John Hume was a political titan; a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past."[89] The Dalai Lama said on Twitter: "John Hume's deep conviction in the power of dialogue and negotiations to resolve conflict was unwavering... It was his leadership and his faith in the power of negotiations that enabled the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to be reached. His steady persistence set an example for us all to follow."[90]

See also

Awards and honours




This section is a candidate for copying over to Wikiquote using the Transwiki process.


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Parliament of Northern Ireland Preceded byEddie McAteer Member of Parliament for Foyle 1969–1973 Parliament abolished Northern Ireland Assembly (1973) New assembly Assembly Member for Londonderry 1973–1974 Assembly abolished Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention New convention Member for Londonderry 1975–1976 Convention dissolved European Parliament New constituency MEP for Northern Ireland 19792004 Succeeded byBairbre de Brún Northern Ireland Assembly (1982) New assembly MPA for Londonderry 1982–1986 Assembly abolished Parliament of the United Kingdom New constituency Member of Parliament for Foyle 19832005 Succeeded byMark Durkan Northern Ireland Forum New forum Member for Foyle 1996–1998 Forum dissolved Northern Ireland Assembly New assembly MLA for Foyle 1998–2000 Succeeded byAnnie Courtney Party political offices New political party Deputy Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party 1970–1979 Succeeded bySeamus Mallon Preceded byGerry Fitt Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party 1979–2001 Succeeded byMark Durkan