John Hume left the world a better place than he found it: Lord Patten

A former Tory Party chairman has paid tribute to the late John Hume as someone who “left the world a better place than he found it”.

Lord Chris Patten - a minister at the Northern Ireland Office in the 1980s and the last governor of Hong Kong - celebrated the Derry politician in a lecture at the European Parliament recently.

In his Strasbourg speech, Baron Patten of Barnes - who, in the late 1990s, oversaw policing reforms in NI - said Mr Hume had “stood up courageously for reason and reconciliation against violence and for the ballot box against the firebomb and the gun.”

The former European Commissioner added that Mr Hume’s upbringing “cemented” his understanding of the relationship between social justice and political harmony but “without ever embittering him about his Protestant neighbours”.

Lord Chris Patten.

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John Hume’s concern for social justice, said Baron Patten, was not governed by the “worst aspects of identity politics”.

“While a Catholic and an Irish nationalist who wanted to see a united Ireland, he did not ignore the complexities of a society in which so many others passionately disagreed with his national vision,” he added.

The Derry politician, said Lord Patten, believed that unity could actually be found through diversity, “provided that reconciliation and consent produce the glue, not violence and the threat of it”.

The former Tory Party chairman said that John Hume and his colleagues in the SDLP “went from door to door, meeting to meeting, funeral to funeral, bombsite to bombsite, from one failed government effort to promote power-sharing to another, refusing to abandon the ballot box and a manifesto of reconciliation.”

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He added: “They were abused, spat at, shot at, denounced and not always given as much support from a political establishment in London or, perhaps, even in other capitals as they deserved. But, in 1998, after much spadework done by John Major and Albert Reynolds, they played a key role in securing the Good Friday Agreement which was finally secured by Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern and George Mitchell.”

Key to John Hume’s ideology, said Lord Patten, was a rejection of a populist nationalism, of an introverted identity politics and of the violent resolution of political arguments.

“A democrat through and through, he was able to inspire and motivate through his courage and his words,” he added.

“He was an eloquent man - as the Irish are always supposed to be and often are. Quite simply, John Hume left the world a better place than he found it.

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“It is a task today and tomorrow for us to ensure in Ireland and Europe that things do not slip and slide back to where they were. That would be a betrayal of Hume’s legacy and - as much to the point - a betrayal of our children and our grandchildren, too.”