An audience in excess of 200 people turned out at the City Hotel in Derry on Monday night for the official launch of a new book charting the political life of Derry’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume.
Edited by two of Mr Hume’s closest collegaues within the SDLP, Sean Farren and Denis Haughey, it is a collaborative work from many contributors and boasts a foreword from former U.S. President, Bill Clinton.
The event was opened by Denis Haughey who told the audience the language now used in Northern Irish politics was defined by John Hume.
“Hume-Speak”, said Mr Haughey, “was a consistent analysis of and proposals to deal with the Northern Ireland crisis.”
“It was John Hume’s refusal to deviate from that consistency of purpose that has taken us to where we are today,” he continued.
Professor of Politics at Ulster University and native of Derry, Dr Paul Arthur spoke of his pride that the book launch took place at the City Hotel because the previous incarnation of the premises had been the cradle of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) especially after the events of October 5, 1968.
He said that as a student at Queen’s University athe time and a member of People’s Democracy he came home to tell NICRA that they were planning a march between Belfast and Derry. After the attack on the march at Duke Street he said it was John Hume who stayed on the streets to warn people that violence was not the way forward-that protest could be carried on without violence.
“It was this that set Derry apart, in that this was protest with a purpose. What was done in Derry set the standards of the Civil Rights Movement,” he said.
Prof. Arthur also said the book is not one written with undue reverence towards John Hume and that it carries a range of opinion from those who were prepared to contribute and who did so with great enthusiasm.
The reason for the publication of the work at this point said Paul Arthur was to “record what was done, why it was done and to record the indomitable spirit of John Hume.”
Pat Hume, John’s wife, who could not attend the launch, was spoken of in the highest of terms by many of the speakers on the night and it was agreed that she has never received the credit she deserved for her own contribution to the political sitaution in Derry and elsewhere down the decades.
Former SDLP leader and now MP for Foyle, Mark Durkan, spent many years as John Hume’s closest aide, especially in the years leading to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
At times emotional during his address at the City Hotel, Mr Durkan said: “John’s answer was to never give up, he never gave in. In the darkest days as news of the latest atrocity reached us he would say ‘the problem hasn’t changed, so the solution hasn’t changed.’
“He concentrated on the bigger picture and he didn’t react to reaction.
“There are so many facets to John Hume, but only one faith. He is a remarkable man. He was capable of not only listening to what people were saying, but also what they were not saying. He noted the slightest change in langauge during long hours of negotiations. That’s a remarkable skill.
“There are a lot of these things that John doesn’t remember so we should remember them.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also spoke at the book launch.
He said: “When I joined the SDLP I was very aware that I would be standing on the shoulders of giants and no more so than the shoulders of John Hume.
“He stood within communities and stood for these communities when it wasn’t easy to do so. He and many like him made it easy for me to follow on. John persisted with a dogged determination and his life’s work is contained within the Good Friday Agreement. But, it is not the end point to have an opportunity to make life better for all of us. In away it represemnts an emancipation for my generation.”
John Hume gained worldwide recognition and respect for his principled opposition to the use of violence as a means of resolving the deep divisions between the people of Northern Ireland, between those who favour Irish unity and those who favour maintaining the union with Britain.
His constant message was the need to heal sundered relationships between the people of Ireland, north and south, and between the people of Ireland and Britain. This book of essays assesses Hume’s role throughout the Troubles as he campaigned in Ireland, Europe and the US to influence politicians and opinion makers in the cause of justice and peace. The essays discuss the political background to his entry into public life in 1960s Derry as a champion of the credit union movement, the civil rights campaign, the Sunningdale Agreement, the failed efforts to establish a power-sharing executive, the trauma of terrorism, the hunger strikes, his role in Europe and the US, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Hume-Adams dialogue and the Good Friday Agreement.
Contributors to ‘John Hume-Irish Peacemaker’ include, Paul Arthur, Arthur Aughey, Austin Currie, Seán Donlon, Mark Durkan, Marianne Elliott, Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Maurice Hayes, Pat Hume, Brigid Laffan, David McKittrick, Seán O’Huiginn, Éamon Phoenix and Nancy Soderberg.
John Hume is the only person to win all of what are regarded as the world’s leading peace prizes. He was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 with former Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble. This was followed a year later in 1999 by the Martin Luther King Peace Prize and in 2002 by the Ghandi Peace Prize. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, John Hume said: “Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace - respect for diversity.”
Hume is rightly credited with being the thinker behind many of the recent political developments in Northern Ireland, from Sunningdale power-sharing to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Belfast Agreement.
‘John Hume-Irish Peacemaker’, is a Four Courts Press publication and is available now at all book outlets across Derry priced £15.