John Hume Word on the Week 8th August 2020.
The death of John Hume this week produced an outpouring of gratitude the like of which he never experienced in his lifetime! The Nobel Laureate and former Social Democrats leader was one of the architects of the North’s peace process and the 1998 Belfast Agreement. He died at 83 and had been suffering for some time from dementia which eventually robbed him of his sight.
John realised that there would have to be consent before where could be any agreement and this was generally accepted. As long as the struggle was for territory, which was the dominant view among nationalists, ‘it’s our land’ there would be no agreement. As he understood it unity between people was the priority.
The first breakthrough came with the replacement of what had been near permanent Unionist majority rule in the North with a power-sharing Executive that would represent the two communities. He also helped to promoted the creation of North-South institutions as a unifying factor in a much divided island.
There was a need to engage with the Sinn Fein who were supporting violence as a strategy for unity. He had secret talks with Gerry Adams their leader. When these were discovered mistrust flourished. It was a torrid time when even his supportive wife, Pat, urged him to give up.
When attending one of the many funerals a young woman crossed the road and asked John keep going so that others would not have to bury their father as she had just done. It moved him so much that it is reputed to be the one time he was seen to weep in public.
His peace strategy which respected difference gained acceptance in the USA among some of the top politicians. He was able to turn the Irish-American fund raising efforts away from the purchase of arms towards a peaceful solution. This eventually came with the Good-Friday or Belfast Agreement which brought about, amongst other things, a cease fire and the destruction of weapons.
Bono U2’s front man famously got Trimble and Hume to join hands on the stage of the Waterfront Hall in what became a successful effort to get the Good Friday referendum over the line. This inclusive Agreement embraced the concept that land does not determine the identity of the people – it’s the people that determine the identity of the land and now that there was a unifying agreement in place progress could be made.
But it’s Hume’s speech at the EU in Strasburg after his award of the Nobel Peace Prize that succinctly spells out his thinking. He commended the EU for demonstrating peace among countries who had killed millions in wars during the 1900’s. He reckoned this to be an example to the world and the EU should send philosophies not armies to conflict areas.
There would have been a sharp inrush of breath when he went on to say “All conflict is about the same thing!” This he summed up as “Seeing difference as a threat. Race, Religion and Nationality he claimed are accidents of birth. It’s not something we should engage in conflict about its something we should respect.”
Our Creator God made us the way we are in order that we might seek and find Him. This seeking involved turning from sinful ways in repentance and faith (Acts Chapter 17 verses 26 to 34). It is Christianity that gives us the basis for that respect of others i.e. all made in God’s image. John Hume wore himself out in the cause of Irish unity. May he rest in peace