"John Hume cemented his place in history": Alastair Campbell on Nobel Prize winner's legacy

3 August 2020, 13:40

By Seán Hickey

As someone who was in the presence of John Hume during the Peace Process, Alastair Campbell said he was "one of the biggest personalities in the room."

John Hume was a founder of the SDLP, Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement which brought peace to Northern Ireland. He passed away today aged 83 and leaves behind a remarkable legacy.

James O'Brien spoke about Mr Hume's legacy with Alastair Campbell, former adviser to Tony Blair who was a signatory of the Good Friday agreement. Mr Campbell told James that his determination to bring peace to Northern Ireland is often overlooked today.

Today's generation have "no real memory of what life was like when people were killing each other...bombs were going off in mainland Great Britain as well," he began.

"It took people like John Hume to say constantly 'life can be better than this, the situation can be better than this and the change has to come through politics,'" and thanks to him the situation in Northern Ireland has changed utterly.

He had a "irrepressible romantic optimism alongside a real pragmatic, hard headed understanding of how politics works and how you make change happen," which made him such a successful politician, Mr Campbell said.

"He's definitely one of those people in the peace process who's role in history is absolutely cemented."

James noted that Mr Hume achieved what he did without violence. "He chose words and diplomacy over the bomb," James asked Mr Campbell "what explains that ability to see beyond the short term and focus on the horizon."

The former adviser to Tony Blair said Mr Hume "had something to say and had values and principles and they were fighting for things that really mattered," which made his voice one of the most prominent in the House of Commons at the time.

One of his gifts as a politician was "the capacity to see where other people were coming from," and he struck up rapport with figures on the other side of NI politics such as Dr Ian Paisley through his empathy.

Mr Campbell said that the former SDLP leader had a "real understanding of the issues, a real understanding of the detail and a real understanding of what was at stake," and this made him instrumental in the Peace Process.

"John Hume was one of the biggest personalities in the room," he concluded.