John Hume: ‘He can be compared to Parnell and O’Connell... but it is ironic to see Sinn Fein heap praise on him’

Fellow nationalists have remembered John Hume as a “colossus” of 20th century politics – with one former colleague saying he will go down in history as one of the greatest Irishmen of all time.

Tuesday, 4th August 2020, 11:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th August 2020, 11:51 am
John Hume being detained in 1971; Charles Stewart Parnell; and Daniel O'Connell

They have also told the News Letter it was “a bit rich” and “quite ironic” to see Sinn Fein heaping praise upon him, given the contempt many republicans felt for him during the Troubles.

Among the tributes from Sinn Fein yesterday was a statement from Gerry Adams, hailing Mr Hume for having “the courage to take real risks for peace... when others talked endlessly about peace John grasped the challenge and helped make peace happen”.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP leader from 2011 to 2015, knew him since the late 1960s.

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1994 : John Hume photographed in Londonderry for his 25th year in politics celebration

Quoting Shakespeare, he said Mr Hume “bestrode the narrow world like a colossus”, and praised him as “probably the key player in bringing about peace” in the Province.

“His life was under threat – and fairly open threat – at times,” said Dr McDonnell.

“A lot of people operated in that space. It was brutal on the individuals and it was brutal on the families.”

He said in the past republicans “despised Hume”, and it is “a bit rich” to hear him being lauded from republican quarters today.

Library file photo dated 21/8/71 of SDLP leader John Hume (then a Stormont MP and Civil Rights leader) adressing a Londonderry rally

“He dominated nationalism – but he did more than that,” concluded Dr McDonnell.

“He reached out and connected. John felt always you had to make peace with your opponent. You already were at peace with your friend.

“Nobody ever said any of these things were absolutely perfect. But we were better off with the Belfast Agreement.”

Margaret Ritchie, SDLP leader from 2010 to 2011, said Mr Hume was her inspiration for joining the party in 1980.

She said “John spoke a different language [than Sinn Fein], but he believed in bringing them in... it was a means of taking the gun out of politics”.

When to comes to the praise for him voiced by Sinn Fein yesterday, she said: “I suppose it is quite ironic, because they would’ve had different political philosophies.

“He totally abhorred violence of all kinds. He abhorred state violence, and violence from paramilitarism, whether republican or loyalist.”

She said Mr Hume was among “the greatest” Irishmen in history, “comparable to Parnell and O’Connell... and in fact in many ways he’s achieved probably more than they have”.

These are references to Charles Stewart Parnell, the Protestant founder of the Irish Parliamentary Party, who lobbied for the creation of a Dublin parliament with his Home Rule campaign during the late 19th century; meanwhile Daniel O’Connell successfully had anti-Catholic penal laws revoked in the 1820s.

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