The Irish President has heaped praise on John Hume as a man of peace and courage as the SDLP founder and Nobel Peace recipient turns 80 today.
Michael D. Higgins said he took “great pleasure” in sending birthday wishes on behalf of the people of Ireland to “someone who has made an immense contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation on this island”.
Mr Higgins said: “In so many ways, John was the moral architect of an inclusive peace process that delivered the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
“Responding to the fault-lines of sectarianism and injustice which he encountered in his early adult life, John Hume always rejected the use of violence as an instrument of change; following the principle that an “eye for eye” approach leaves us all blind.
“He stood resolutely for the transformational power of non-violence. By providing leadership to those who dedicated themselves to achieving peace, partnership and equality through dialogue and democratic engagement, John motivated and inspired many of the best men and women of his generation, and they in turn would go onto give so much of themselves in the promotion of the project of a peaceful and reconciled island.
“He was from the outset a believer in the capacity of communities to enhance their lives – a belief exemplified by this fundamental support for the Credit Union Movement on this island.”
Mr Higgins said that in his long and distinguished political career as a founder and later leader of the SDLP, as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Westminster Parliament and the European Parliament, Derry man John Hume has helped to shape many of the historical mile-stones on the long path to peace and reconciliation in Ireland - from Sunningdale(1973) and the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) to the paramilitary cease-fires of 1994 and ultimately to the Good Friday Agreement.
“A frequent advocate to the United States and at so many international meetings, John’s eloquently powerful words and often courageous initiatives were vital to this journey, on which he was accompanied by his wife Pat who provided wise counsel and steadfast support,” Mr Higgins said, adding:
“His vision and leadership rightfully gained John international recognition as a peacemaker, including as the joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside David Trimble.
“As he turns 80 today, the many aspects of John’s life and legacy - as a man of courage, a committed European and a dedicated and visionary peacemaker - serve as a much needed inspiration to all of us.
“At a time when both the European Union and Northern Ireland face particular challenges, the values that John espoused – equality, respect, solidarity and partnership – are needed more than ever.
“On my own behalf and behalf of the people of Ireland, I am delighted to have this opportunity to offer my congratulations to John on his 80th birthday and to extend warmest best wishes to Pat and his family.”