Northern Ireland

Dawn Purvis: Time to recapture the spirit of 1998

John Hume and David Trimble received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly for their work in delivering the Good Friday Agreement
John Hume and David Trimble received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly for their work in delivering the Good Friday Agreement

25 years ago, on 10 December 1998, John Hume and David Trimble were historically awarded the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

In their Nobel addresses, both John Hume and David Trimble said they accepted the award on behalf of all the people in NI and Ireland, the quiet peacemakers, ordinary men and women who had, even in the darkest days of the Troubles, preached a message of peace, tolerance and respect for difference.

After four decades of violence, the people of the island had blown away the cobwebs of the past and had voted for a new partnership where we viewed "each and every person as worthy of respect and honour" and were able to "build together a future that can be as great as our dreams allow". (John Hume)

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I remember that time well. There was much hope and excitement as we worked together to create new institutions that would be inclusive and deliver the new society that we all craved.

It is time to recapture the spirit of 1998.

The John and Pat Hume Foundation for Peaceful Change and Reconciliation has tried to play our part, not only in protecting the legacy of John and Pat Hume but to continue the journey of reconciliation and inspire leadership for peaceful change.

Through our programmes and projects, the foundation has tried to advance non-violent change-making in divided societies, encompassing social and economic justice, and democratic progress while building inclusive and resilient communities as fundamental cornerstones of a sustained peace.

The Peace Summit 2023 led by the Hume Foundation and Community Dialogue, in partnership with a number of peace partners, called for renewed commitment to finish the job in relation to peace and reconciliation.

This must happen through civic and political effort to tackle current and future challenges. The outcome report of that summit stated clearly the political institutions need to function cooperatively; socio-economic issues must be tackled urgently while inviting meaningful civic engagement.

The foundation’s joint initiative, with Stratagem, on Future Politics – Delivering More Effective Government, has created a dynamic space for constructive conversations about our political and policymaking structures that can deliver better outcomes for people, communities and businesses.

Our Building Common Ground/ Shared Homeplace discussions have encouraged a generous and inclusive conversation about political change in Northern Ireland, on the island and between these islands.

It is welcome that John Hume’s words and principles continue to be an example and inspiration for those in other places trying to overcome injustice, inequality, indifference or inertia as they work to end or avert conflict.

Mark Durkan tells the story, of a British-Irish Association event many years ago, where some were questioning John Hume’s approach at the time. Dismayed by this, the late great journalist Robert Fisk turned to Hume’s colleague, Denis Haughey, to ask: “Do they not realise that anything that might make for progress, or a solution begins as an idea inside that man’s head?”

Last week, Nelofer Pazira Fisk, wife of the late Rober Fisk wrote "John Hume’s brave vision is needed right now in the Middle East". 

She argued that Hume proved that physical and moral courage coupled with his willingness to engage all sides was essential in his battle for peace. This is a powerful message for all conflict zones.

It is our duty to keep faith with the Hume principles, keep his dream alive and inspire current and emerging courageous leaders for peaceful change, at home and in conflicts internationally, who will chart a better way forward and build a more just and prosperous future for all our children.

Dawn Purvis is chair of the John and Pat Hume Foundation.