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Honouring the legacy of John Hume

FEW leaders have had the impact of John Hume.

The late SDLP founder's work in bringing peace to Northern Ireland won him accolades across the world, not least his Nobel prize, jointly awarded with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble in 1998.

Both men showed strong leadership not just in helping to bring about the Good Friday Agreement but also in encouraging the vast majority of people to support it.

The agreement was the product of decades of often thankless work. In opposing violence, but also remaining open to dialogue with people he disagreed with, Mr Hume laid down the template of how a statesman should behave.

Today marks the first anniversary of Mr Hume's death at the age of 83. His family plan to mark the day privately and with little fuss, mindful of the ongoing pandemic.

In an interview with The Irish News at the weekend, Mr Hume's youngest daughter, Professor Mo Hume, spoke of her father's rootedness in his community. What he would have wanted to see, she said, “is Derry doing well”.

For decades, the north's second city, like many places west of the Bann, has suffered from a lack of investment.

In the more than 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement, it has yet to fully reap the rewards of the ‘peace dividend'.

Rail links remain limited, meaning that Derry, and the whole north-west of Ireland, cannot benefit from good public transport at a time when climate change is an ever-pressing issue.

One of the most glaring oversights remains the lack of an independent university in Derry.

In 1965, the city was rejected for Northern Ireland's second university in favour of predominantly Protestant Coleraine - a move Mr Hume said was an impetus for the civil rights movement.

There is a strong case for any Derry university to be named after Mr Hume. However, his family have insisted that what they want to see is “bread and butter politics”.

Professor Hume said plaques and statues are static objects and her father “wasn't about static, symbolistic politics”.

In an era when many political leaders seem more concerned with personal interest than the wellbeing of their country or community, Mr Hume's loss is felt even more strongly.

Honouring his legacy means honouring his principles of community, openness and generosity.

Like the oak trees of his beloved Derry, strong roots make for bigger and better growth.

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