Tributes paid to former SDLP leader John Hume

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Tributes have been paid to former SDLP leader John Hume, one of the key architects of peace in Northern Ireland, after his death at the age of 83.

Mr Hume, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the decisive part he played in ending the Troubles, had suffered ill-health for a number of years.

The former Foyle MP had dementia and was being cared for in the Owen Mor nursing home in Londonderry.

He died in the early hours of Monday morning.

Former prime minister Tony Blair hailed Mr Hume’s “epic” contribution to the peace process.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also paid tribute.

Current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the island had lost its most significant and consequential political figure of the 20th century.

Mr Hume, a former MEP for Northern Ireland, was a founding member of the party he went on to lead for 22 years.

He was a key figure in the civil rights movement of the late 1960s and throughout his political career remained steadfast in his commitment to non-violence.

His participation in secret talks with then Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a key catalyst for the nascent peace process.

The SDLP leader faced intense criticism, including some from within his own party, when his dialogue with Mr Adams became public in 1993.

Despite threats to his life, he persisted with his efforts to engage with the republican movement and to convince the IRA to end its campaign of violence.

The highlight of his career came in 1998 with the signing of the historic Good Friday accord which largely ended Northern Ireland’s 30-year sectarian conflict.

Along with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, now Lord Trimble, Mr Hume was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to stopping the bloodshed.

In 2010, Mr Hume was named “Ireland’s Greatest” in a poll by Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE.

Ulster Blair / Trimble / Hume
Prime Minister Tony Blair (centre) with (left) David Trimble and (right) John Hume on the last day of campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 (Chris Bacon/PA)

Mr Johnson said there would have been no Good Friday Agreement without Mr Hume.

“John Hume was quite simply a political giant,” he said.

“He stood proudly in the tradition that was totally opposed to violence and committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.”

The Prime Minister added: “With his passing we have lost a great man who did so much to help bring an end to the Troubles and build a better future for all.

“His vision paved the way for the stability, positivity and dynamism of the Northern Ireland of today, and his passing is a powerful reminder of how far Northern Ireland has come.”

Taoiseach Mr Martin described Mr Hume as a “great hero and a true peacemaker”.

“Throughout his long life he exhibited not just courage, but also fortitude, creativity and an utter conviction that democracy and human rights must define any modern society,” he said.

Mr Blair said Mr Hume was a “political titan”.

“A visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past,” he said.

“His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic and he will rightly be remembered for it.

“He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it, and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen.”

John Hume death
The Dalai Lama meets fellow Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume (Martin McCullough/PA)

“All of those who sought and worked for peace on our island of Ireland, and in the hearts of all, will have been deeply saddened by the passing of John Hume, Nobel Peace Laureate and statesman,” he said.

UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said: “Life across the island of Ireland is peaceful and more prosperous today because of his courage, vision and determination.

Mr Eastwood said the passing of Mr Hume marked a historic moment for the island of Ireland.

“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,” he said.

General Election 2019
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood close to a painted mural of former SDLP John Hume in the Bogside area of Derry City (Liam McBurney/PA)

“It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: we shall overcome.”

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