Northern Ireland news

Former SDLP leader John Hume dies at 83

Former SDLP leader John Hume
David Young, PA

Former SDLP leader John Hume has died at the age of 83.

Mr Hume, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize for efforts in forging the Good Friday Agreement, had suffered ill health for a number of years.

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

In a statement, Mr Hume's family said: "We are deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.

"We would like to extend our deepest and heartfelt thanks to the care and nursing staff of Owen Mor nursing home in Derry.

Pat and John Hume. Picture by Colm O'Reilly Pacemaker Press

"The care they have shown John in the last months of his life has been exceptional."

They added: "John was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and a brother. He was very much loved, and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family.

"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."

John Hume: Family statement in full

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Hume was 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," he said.

"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."

Read more: Man who dreamed of united Ireland laid groundwork for peace deal


Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who was in office when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, praised John Hume's "epic" contribution to the peace process.

"John 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.

"Beyond that, he was a remarkable combination of an open mind to the world and practical politics.

"In any place, in any party, anywhere, he would have stood tall. It was good fortune that he was born on the island of Ireland.

"I was fortunate to work with John on the Good Friday Agreement but also to get to know him years before.

"He influenced my politics in many ways, but his belief in working through differences to find compromise will stay with me forever. My thoughts are with Patricia and the rest of his family. He will be greatly missed."

Read more: John Hume loved Derry and Derry loved him

Former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said Mr Hume "had the courage to take real risks for peace".

"His decision to meet with me in September 1986, following an invitation from Fr Alex Reid, was a breakthrough moment in Irish politics. John’s agreement to examine the potential of building an alternative to conflict was the mark of a political leader genuinely prepared to look at the bigger picture and to put the wider interests of society above narrow party politics.

“This was at a time when the great and the good in the political and media establishments on these islands were committed to marginalising and demonising Sinn Féin." 

Mr Adams paid tribute to Pat Hume who he said had been her husband's "mainstay, his life partner and constant adviser and supporter".

First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster described Mr Hume as a "giant in Irish nationalism", adding: "John left his unique mark in the House of Commons, Brussels & Washington. In our darkest days he recognised that violence was the wrong path & worked steadfastly to promote democratic politics".

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said she was "saddened to hear of the death of John Hume" who was "a huge political figure in Irish politics for many years and was known the world over for his peace-making efforts".

"He was a leader who worked tirelessly for the community and his beloved Derry.

"His work alongside Gerry Adams in the Hume-Adams talks were instrumental in creating the space for developing and progressing the peace process which led to the Good Friday Agreement.

"I send my condolences to his party colleagues and all those he worked with throughout the years. He will be sadly missed.

"My thoughts are with his widow, Pat, his children, grandchildren, his entire family circle and all who knew him."

A 'towering' figure

Taoiseach Micheál Martin described Mr Hume as a "great hero and a true peace maker".

"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.

"For over four decades, he was a passionate advocate for a generous, outward-looking and all-encompassing concept of nationalism and republicanism. For him, the purpose of politics was to bring people together, not split them apart.

"During the darkest days of paramilitary terrorism and sectarian strife, he kept hope alive. And with patience, resilience and unswerving commitment, he triumphed and delivered a victory for peace.

"While the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was the product of many people's work, can anyone really claim that it would have happened without John Hume? He didn't just talk about peace, he worked unstintingly for peace, at times in the face of the most virulent criticism and risk to his life. He knew that to be a peace maker on this island meant being a risk taker.

"John Hume's life was one of towering achievement. His vision was realised and while illness took away his voice, his presence remains all around us on this island in the form of political stability and he has left us a powerful legacy of peace and reconciliation.

"Such achievement of course meant much sacrifice - a sacrifice shared by his wife Pat and his family, but they knew it was for the greater good."

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald paid tribute to the “towering figure in Irish politics" who she said had taken decisions "that were not popular in his own ranks in the pursuit of peace".

"His actions helped to shape the peace process and he was central to the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"John leaves a lasting legacy and the international and national esteem in which he is held is immense."

President Michael D Higgins said Mr Hume transformed and remodelled politics in Ireland.

"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.

The president noted Mr Hume's personal bravery and leadership and "steadfast belief in the principles and values of genuine democracy".

"John's deep commitment to these values and his practical demonstration of tolerance and social justice, oftentimes in the face of strong opposition and tangible threats to his person and his family, asserted the fundamental principles of democracy," he said.

"He and those others who helped usher in a discourse that enabled a new era of civil rights and responsive government that few would have thought possible, have placed generations in their debt, have been a source of hope.

"That his efforts were recognised through the awarding of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize brought great joy not only to his people in Derry, his colleagues in politics, particularly in the SDLP, but to a wider global set of colleagues and fellow advocates for peace abroad who held him in the greatest esteem and admiration."

Mr Higgins said Mr Hume had provided "light of hope in the most difficult of times".

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Trimble, who was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize along with Mr Hume, paid tribute.

"Right from outset of the Troubles, John was urging people to seek their objectives peacefully and was constantly critical of those who did not realise the importance of peace," he said.

He recalled an incident after the Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo when the hotel the SDLP and UUP were staying in suggested they relaxed in two separate rooms.

"We didn't do that, we relaxed and in some sense celebrated the occasion jointly, and that for me spelt out the principle for how we were going to proceed in the years after that," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.

Lord Trimble added: "I will remember a lot of things about John, things that we did together, positions that we took, not always in agreement with each other, there was disagreement as well.

"He was a major contributor to politics in Northern Ireland and particularly to the process that gave us an agreement that we are still working our way through.

"That's hugely important and that's something that he will be remembered for in years to come."

Ivan Cooper and former SDLP leader, John Hume were close friends. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Former prime minister John Major said: "John Hume was an advocate for peace in Northern Ireland for the greater part of his life.

"Few others invested such time and energy to this search and few sought to change entrenched attitudes with such fierce determination.

"Those whose communities have been transformed into peaceful neighbourhoods may wish to pay tribute to one of the most fervent warriors for peace.

"He has earned himself an honoured place in Irish history."

'The reason I joined the SDLP'

Former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said John Hume was the reason she had joined the SDLP.

“John’s respect for our different traditions and determination that we should spill sweat and not blood will set him alongside Charles Stewart Parnell and Daniel O’Connell as a defining and much respected figure in Irish history.  John established the strategy and provided the framework for the solution of our political constitutional difficulties through the three sets of relationships out of which was born the Good Friday Agreement," she added.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said Mr Hume had left "an indelible mark... not just on Northern Ireland, but on the world".

"He reached out to the international community, recognising the value of this engagement. He ensured that world leaders supported the efforts of politicians to underpin the Belfast Agreement, to which he made such a vital contribution.

"Few people deserved the Nobel Peace Prize more than John - he dedicated his life to peace, and for that the people of Northern Ireland will never forget him."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said Mr Hume's contribution to political life "is unarguable, even by those who would have regarded themselves as political opponents".  

Green Party leader Clare Bailey MLA said Mr Hume's contribution to peace building will be remembered and recognised for generations to come.

Credit Union

John Hume was a former president of the Irish League of Credit Unions which has paid tribute to him as "one of the driving forces for the establishment of the credit union movement in Ireland" and a founding member of Derry Credit Union in 1960

He was made the second life director of the ILCU in 2001.

"John Hume's sense of social justice, compassion for ordinary people, and his belief in the strength of the cooperative movement was, and is, an inspiration to everyone involved in the credit union movement on the island of Ireland today. He will be sadly missed by all who knew him but his legacy will endure through the peace he created on this island and the credit union movement he helped build," the organisation said.

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