Northern Ireland news

John Hume understood need for economic development

John and Pat Hume understood the need for economic development to underpin drive for peace, according to former head of the International Fund for Ireland, Willie McCarter
Willie McCarter

John and Pat Hume have done so much for so many in both Northern Ireland and the Republic that it is difficult to know what aspect of their work to comment on.

Two aspects of their massive contribution stand out, namely the connections which they built up in America and in Europe as well as their huge understanding of how economic development and job creation underpins communities and the wider peace process.

For years John and Pat would plough a very lonely furrow in America trying to recruit influential Americans to the cause of peace in Northern Ireland. One of those was the late Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill.

John and Pat discovered that Tip’s grandmother had emigrated from a small farm outside Buncrana and in the mid 80’s had invited Tip and family to visit the Donegal town and the farm where his grandmother had grown up.

I remember well the reception at what is now The Gateway Hotel in Buncrana where several hundred relatives turned up to greet their American cousins from Boston or to be more precise Cambridge, Mass.

It was a wonderful event on a beautiful summer's evening. A year or two later Tip O’Neill was visiting with John and Pat again and on looking around the centre of Derry, on a weekday around midday, noticed the number of unemployed people who were wandering around. Tip told John that he was going to try to do something about jobs in Northern Ireland because, as he put it, “the lack of jobs is at least part or your problem here”.

Tip went back to Washington where he had a good relationship with President Reagan and with senior politicians, both Republicans and Democrats. The result was the creation of The International Fund for Ireland ultimately supported by the US, Canada, New Zealand, the EU and Australia. To date the International Fund for Ireland has provided funds of around one billion dollars and leveraged another two billion dollars towards around 6000 projects in Northern Ireland and the six border counties of the Republic leading to the creation of around 50,000 jobs in the most disadvantaged areas.

John Hume through his connections as an MEP was instrumental in bringing the EU in as a major funder for the International Fund and then helped persuade the EU to come with its own massive peace funding, frequently using models pioneered by the International Fund.

John and Pat from early days reached out to both Republican and Democratic politicians in the US both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.

When Newt Gingrich became the Republican Speaker of the House in the mid-nineties John discovered that Newt’s mother was an O’Doherty. On the basis that Newt should be inducted into the O’Doherty Clan he invited Newt to bring a large congressional delegation made up of senior Republicans and Democrats to Northern Ireland and the Republic.

They visited many International Fund projects and met many people. I then remember well driving Newt Gingrich and John and Pat over to Inch Island near Buncrana where the headquarters of the O’Doherty Clan were to be found in their Inishowen heartland. It was a misty Donegal summer morning when we witnessed the almost surreal event of the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich being inducted into the O’Doherty Clan.

John completed his Master’s thesis on the very rapid economic growth of Derry in the 19th century. This was mainly entrepreneurial led growth based on industries such as shirt making, shipping, shipbuilding, milling and whiskey distilling. From this both John and Pat knew the important role played by economic growth and job creation in building local communities. Not only were they theoreticians in this field but they were also practitioners.

Taking a leaf from Tip O’Neills famous expression “all politics is local" they invited senior executives from companies such as Seagate to visit Derry and also meet local people in two of their favourite restaurants - Kealy’s in Greencastle Co Donegal and St Johns in Fahan (now the Red Door).

Seagate stands now as an outstanding example of the Hume inward investment strategy. Indeed, John bent my ear on many occasions as Fruit of the Loom expanded in Buncrana and when a suitable opportunity arose we were very happy to bring several hundred jobs to Derry on foot of John's advice. I am very glad to see even today our large yarn mill building now providing much needed jobs.

All in all, John and Pat were a formidable team who changed the lives of many people in this part of the world for the better and to Pat and her family we offer our sincere condolences at this sad time.

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