Former SDLP leader and Nobel peace prize winner John Hume dies aged 83

3 August 2020, 09:25

Former SDLP leader John Hume has died at the age of 83.
Former SDLP leader John Hume has died at the age of 83. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Former SDLP leader and Nobel peace prize winner John Hume has died aged 83, his family has announced.

Mr Hume, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize for efforts in forging the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, had suffered ill health for a number of years.

The former Foyle MP had dementia and was cared for in the Owen Mor nursing home in Londonderry.

In a statement, Mr Hume's family said: "We are deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.

"We would like to extend our deepest and heartfelt thanks to the care and nursing staff of Owen Mor nursing home in Derry. The care they have shown John in the last months of his life has been exceptional."

Former US president Bill Clinton paid tribute to the peacemaker who "forged peace in Northern Ireland."

Former SDLP leader John Hume dies at 83

In a joint statement with his wife Hillary, Mr Clinton described the former SDLP leader as having fought a long war for peace.

"His chosen weapon: an unshakeable commitment to non-violence, persistence, kindness and love. With his enduring sense of honour he kept marching on against all odds towards a brighter future for all the children of Northern Ireland," they said.

"Through his faith in principled compromise, and his ability to see his adversaries as human beings, John helped forge the peace that has held to this day."

Mr Clinton and his wife made a high-profile visit to Northern Ireland in 1995 following the IRA ceasefire.

As well as switching on the Christmas lights at Belfast City Hall before huge crowds, the then US president and first lady also travelled to Londonderry.

Mr Hume's family's statement added: "John was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and a brother. He was very much loved, and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family.

"It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: we shall overcome."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Hume was Ireland's most significant and consequential political figure.

"It is no exaggeration to say that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland Hume imagined - an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny," he said.

"This is an historic moment on this island, but most of all it is a moment of deep, deep sadness. In the days ahead, Ireland will be united in mourning his loss.

"However, amidst that national mourning, it is equally true that the marking of John's death also opens up a space to reflect on, and celebrate, the magnitude of his life.

"As part of that reflection of John's work, never has the beatitude rung truer - blessed be the peacemakers.

"The life of John Hume will forever be a blessing upon this island since Ireland is now blessed by the peace he gifted to us all. It is the greatest legacy a political leader can bestow upon his country."

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in Number 10 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, praised Mr Hume's "epic" contribution to the peace process.

He said: "John Hume was a political titan; a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past.

"His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic and he will rightly be remembered for it. He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen.

"Beyond that, he was a remarkable combination of an open mind to the world and practical politics.

"In any place, in any party, anywhere, he would have stood tall. It was good fortune that he was born on the island of Ireland.

"I was fortunate to work with John on the Good Friday Agreement but also to get to know him years before.

"He influenced my politics in many ways, but his belief in working through differences to find compromise will stay with me forever. My thoughts are with Patricia and the rest of his family. He will be greatly missed."

Irish President Michael D Higgins said Mr Hume transformed and remodelled politics in Ireland.

"All of those who sought and worked for peace on our island of Ireland, and in the hearts of all, will have been deeply saddened by the passing of John Hume, Nobel Peace Laureate and statesman," he said.

The president noted Mr Hume's personal bravery and leadership and "steadfast belief in the principles and values of genuine democracy".

"John's deep commitment to these values and his practical demonstration of tolerance and social justice, oftentimes in the face of strong opposition and tangible threats to his person and his family, asserted the fundamental principles of democracy," he said.

"He and those others who helped usher in a discourse that enabled a new era of civil rights and responsive government that few would have thought possible, have placed generations in their debt, have been a source of hope.

"That his efforts were recognised through the awarding of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize brought great joy not only to his people in Derry, his colleagues in politics, particularly in the SDLP, but to a wider global set of colleagues and fellow advocates for peace abroad who held him in the greatest esteem and admiration."

Mr Higgins said Mr Hume had provided "light of hope in the most difficult of times".