Northern Ireland news

Calls for John Hume to be awarded the Freedom of Belfast are 'respectfully declined'

Senator George Mitchell will receive the Freedom of Belfast. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE wife of former SDLP leader John Hume has "respectfully declined" calls for him to be awarded the freedom of Belfast.

Pat Hume said while she thanked Belfast city councillors for the "kind offer", her husband would not be accepting.

The news emerged as a council committee voted to give the freedom of the city to former US president Bill Clinton and former US Senator George Mitchell in recognition of their role in the peace process and Good Friday Agreement.

The SDLP group put forward the motion yesterday, amid opposition from Ulster Unionist representatives.

Proposing the motion, SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said Senator Mitchell and Mr Clinton had "played hugely important and significant roles in delivering the peace accord".

"Senator Mitchell was seen as the honest broker between all sides in the talks process," he said.

"He won admiration from across the political divide in Northern Ireland for the careful, patient way he chaired the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10 1998."

He added: "Another person who was a constant on the road to peace was President Bill Clinton who gave his unwavering commitment to achieving peace even before he was elected President in 1992".

Ulster Unionists opposed the move, describing it as "really a 20th birthday present for the Good Friday Agreement and that's not what the freedom of the city should be all about".

There were also suggestions that more worthy recipients would have been Mr Hume and former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 "for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland".

In a statement yesterday, Mr Hume's wife Pat said: "On behalf of John and I, I would like to thank all who have made this kind offer in relation to the freedom of Belfast city.

"However, on this occasion John will have to respectfully decline. I have conveyed this to Belfast city councillors through our colleagues in the SDLP."

Mr Hume has previously been honoured with the freedom of other cities including his native Derry.

Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown criticised the UUP position, describing it as a "slap in the face for the Good Friday Agreement by one of its architects".

Mr Clinton and Mr Mitchell will be the 83rd and 84th recipients of the freedom of Belfast when a special council meeting confers the honour.

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