Death of John Hume - ‘Hume truly was Ireland’s greatest’ - SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood
The death of John Hume represents the loss of 20th century Ireland’s most significant and consequential political figure. It is no exaggeration to say that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland Hume imagined – an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny.
This is an historic moment on this island but most of all it is a moment of deep, deep sadness. In the days ahead, Ireland will be united in mourning his loss. However amidst that national mourning, it is equally true that the marking of John’s death also opens up a space to reflect on, and celebrate, the magnitude of his life.
As part of that reflection of John’s work, never has the beatitude rung truer - blessed be the peacemakers. The life of John Hume will forever be a blessing upon this island since Ireland is now blessed by the peace he gifted to us all. It is the greatest legacy a political leader can bestow upon his country.
Hume will always find a home amongst the pantheon of great Irish leaders and it is only right and natural that he will now be spoken of in the very same breath as O’Connell and Parnell. It is important that John’s endeavours are fully appreciated in terms of their sheer scale - his impact and legacy extends well beyond one lifetime and well beyond the confines of Northern Ireland. His life’s work brought to an end the seemingly intractable historical arc of bitter conflict between the neighbouring islands of Britain and Ireland.
After some 800 years which inflicted so much hurt and harm on all our peoples, it is John Hume who must now be remembered as the great healer of that history. For all of these reasons and more, John Hume truly was Ireland’s greatest.
Whilst John Hume lived most of his adult life at the centre of modern Irish history and its politics, it is important that we remember that for John’s family, he was the very centre of their lives and of their love. The Irish nation has lost a giant of its history but his family have lost a husband, a father and a grandfather. The thoughts, prayers and love of all the SDLP family are today with the entire Hume family – with his children Terese, Aine, Aidan, John and Mo, his brothers and sisters and all his grandchildren.
Most especially our thoughts are with his loving wife Pat who cared for and carried alongside John the very same burdens over many dark and difficult years. In the coming days, weeks and months I know that people will be eager to encase the Hume family in the very same warmth, gentleness and infectious humanity which Pat has shared with everyone she has ever met.
It is especially poignant that John’s death has occurred as we concluded celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, a time which first awakened his political journey. Witnessing the enflamed streets of the 1960’s and a community determined to rise up and put an end to the systematic discrimination of the state, John choose to build a politics and a political party which was true to its time and true to the aspirations and the needs of our people.
In setting off on that political path, John embodied and thus gave birth to a new political creed on this island, transforming the conflicting traditions which had rigidly defined our past. That new creed imagined a better and a shared future beyond the rubble of our history. It taught us that it is far better to live for Ireland than to die for Ireland, it challenged us to pursue the path of politics rather than the reactionary instinct of violence, it dared us always to choose principle ahead of easy populism and it told us that human difference doesn’t have to mean division.
The Good Friday Agreement, embraced and endorsed by the Irish people in 1998, is the institutional embodiment of that creed and its vision. John was not simply the Agreement’s architect or its builder, he was very much both. He will forever remain its enduring inspiration.
Through the power of John’s truly European imagination, through the depth of his language, he proved that solutions and partnership were possible and that even the greatest obstacles could be overcome. The three strands of relationships, amongst and between the islands of Britain and Ireland, remains a template of genuine genius and, if utilised, its structures and original ethos still hold the potential to guide us through and beyond the turbulence of our political present.
As a result of his efforts, Hume achieved the rarest of things in a political career – he became a living statesman. It is telling that John Hume remains the only person to have received the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Martin Luther King Award and of course the Nobel Peace Prize. In truth though and true to his character, the greatest reward for John was not personal recognition – it was instead found in the end to the violence and death which had taken ownership of our streets for far too long.
As part of our refection, a special mention is appropriate for the city that was always so special to John Hume. Today, Derry is a city shrouded in grief. Derry was beloved by John and in return he was beloved by the people of this city. Whether in Washington, Brussels, London or Dublin, John’s first thought was always for the people of his hometown. His early involvement in the Credit Union Movement and later his success in bringing thousands of jobs was testament to the fact that forefront in Hume’s mind was always the cause of social justice and fighting poverty. John brought hope back into this city where it was too often in short supply. It is something our city will never forget.
John Hume once summed up his political philosophy in saying, ‘I never thought in terms of being a leader. I thought very simply in terms of helping people.’ The simplicity of that statement remains a powerful insight into the patriotic devotion that came to define the man. Having spent his life in the service of others, no-one is more deserving of the eternal rest which now awaits him.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.