John Hume’s legacy allows us to forge a new path - SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood
It is impossible to overstate the true scale of John’s endeavours and the indelible mark he left on our city, our island and the peace that we all enjoy.
The impact of his life and legacy extends well beyond one life-time and far beyond the confines of the shores of this island. That’s why he is, very simply Ireland’s Greatest.
John’s considered and considerate patriotism brought an end to the seemingly intractable arc of bitter conflict between the people of these islands.
His relentless passion to help the marginalised and dispossessed has lifted more out of poverty and need than we will ever know.
His irrepressible belief that the people of this island need one another and that we will only achieve our fullest potential when we work together in our substantial common interests remains the keystone of the peace process. After 18 months of being apart, during the most challenging circumstances, we should all seek to come together in that spirit of passion for reconciliation.
Hume’s vision and values were totally summed up when, at the age of 23 he set up the first Credit Union in Northern Ireland.
At a meeting in Derry, he was literally laughed off the stage when he proposed a way of borrowing that would empower working class people. Being the man he was, he managed to convince four people to back him and between them they chipped in five pounds, one shilling and nine pence.
Today Derry Credit Union, with more than 31,000 members and almost £100m, in community assets on its books stands as a cross-community monument to Hume’s hopes and ambitions for this place and our people.
It would be foolish not to reflect that a year on from John’s death, we are in a difficult place.
The impact of choices made by others but imposed on people here has created a toxic political environment. Parties have retreated to old patterns of cynical distrust. But the year that has passed has also shown us how much we rely on each other.
Whether it’s our healthcare staff pushing themselves to the limit, and placing themselves in harm’s way, to look after those in need, or the everyday heroes who have set up food collections for the vulnerable, or just people who have called in on neighbours to check they’re coping.
While politics has pulled apart, people have pulled together.
John once summed up his political philosophy by saying, ‘I never thought in terms of being a leader, I thought very simply in terms of helping people’.
On his first anniversary, we should be grateful that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland that Hume imagined - an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny.
But we should be relentlessly ambitious for our future. Hume’s generation gave us the opportunity to forge a new path for people on this island.
It is now our enduring responsibility to live up to our full potential, to listen to each other and work together to take on the new challenges our society faces.
That means ending the wholesale export of our young people because they don’t have the opportunity to make a life for themselves at home.
It means making sure that everyone who lives here feels respected, valued and at home in our communities. It means breaking down the enmity of our past and building a new bond of shared endeavour.
We live in the Ireland that Hume imagined but his real genius was to give us the opportunity to shape our new society. Meeting that challenge is the only way to honour his legacy.