John Hume, a moderate Catholic who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in reconciliation in Northern Ireland, died Monday, August 3, at the age of 83. “John died in the early hours of a short illness”, his family said in a statement.
Elected independent to the British provincial parliament in 1969, John Hume was one of the founders of the left-wing nationalist party, the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP). He became a member of the British Parliament in 1983, and helped bring the North Irish conflict to the international stage, notably involving US President Bill Clinton.
Mr Hume was awarded the Nobel in 1998 with the Protestant leader of the Unionist Party of Ulster, David Trimble, in recognition of “Their efforts to find a peaceful solution” to the “Troubles”, which killed 3,500 people between 1969 and 1998.
“Ireland is not a flag”
He had participated in initiating a dialogue a few months earlier with the nationalists of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and its leader Gerry Adams. These exchanges had made it possible to build the foundations of the so-called “Good Friday” peace agreements, concluded in Belfast between London, Dublin, as well as the Protestant and Catholic parties.
“Ireland is not a romantic dream, it is not a flag, it is 4.5 million people divided between two powerful traditions”, he had notably declared in a documentary devoted to him.
“A solution will not be found on the basis of victory on one side or the other, but on agreement and partnership between the two sides. The divide that runs through Ireland is not a line drawn on a map, but in the minds and hearts of its people. “
John Hume remained at the helm of the SDLP until 2001, before completing twenty-five years as MEP in the European Parliament in 2004. Before entering politics, he had for a time considered entering seminary and becoming a priest. Born in Londonderry, a conflict-torn town near the Irish border, he eventually taught French, which he spoke fluently. In 1999, Pierre Moscovici, then Minister Delegate for European Affairs, presented him with the insignia of an officer of the Legion of Honor.
In Ireland, a century of conflict
The Republic of Ireland gained independence in 1922 after revolting against British occupation. But the UK retained control of six counties, which today form Northern Ireland. Since then, “Republican” Catholics have called for the reunification of all of Ireland, while “Unionist” Protestants have wanted these counties to remain in the UK. In 1969, Republicans in Northern Ireland rose up, ushering in a period of simmering civil war that left 3,500 dead. In 1998, the Good Friday Accord, supplemented by the St Andrews Accord in 2006, put an end to the violence, without both sides giving up their political and identity goals.