He was the second leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a position he held from 1979 until 2001. He has served as a Member of the European Parliament and a Member of Parliament for Foyle, as well as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
He is regarded as one of the most important figures in the modern political history of Northern Ireland and one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process there. In the mid 1960s, he was one of the leaders of the non-violent civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, which was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. He is widely credited with being behind every agreement from Sunningdale (1974) onwards and for eventually persuading Sinn Féin to exert its influence on the Irish Republican Army to cease violent protest, which enabled Sinn Féin itself to enter political negotiations. It can be said that his whole political career was dedicated to restoring peace to his province and to the struggle for justice for the minority Catholic community. He is also a recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, the only recipient of the three major peace awards. In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, he shared his vision of an Ireland in which there was an "Ireland of partnership where we wage war on want and poverty, where we reach out to the marginalized and dispossessed, where we build together a future that can be as great as our dreams allow."
John Hume was born in Londonderry and educated at St. Columb's College and at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, the leading Roman Catholic seminary in Ireland and a recognized college of the National University of Ireland, where he intended to study for the priesthood. Among his teachers was the future Cardinal Ó Fiaich.
He did not complete his clerical studies, but did obtain a M.A degree from the college, and then returned home to his native city and became a teacher. He was a founding member of the Credit Union movement in the city. Hume became a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the mid 1960s, having been prominent in the unsuccessful fight to have Northern Ireland's second university established in Derry in the mid-sixties. After this campaign, John Hume went on to be a prominent figure in the Derry Citizen's Action Committee (DCAC). The DCAC was set up in the wake of the Fifth of October march through Derry which had caused so much attention to be drawn towards the situation in Northern Ireland. The purpose of the DCAC was to make use of the publicity surrounding recent events to bring to light grievances in Derry that had been suppressed by the Unionist Government for years. The DCAC unlike Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), however, was aimed specifically at a local campaign, improving the situation in Derry for all, and maintaining a peaceful stance. The committee even had a Stewards Association that was there to prevent any violence at marches or sit-downs. As this association was seen at times to be the only force keeping the peace, this greatly undermined the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in which there were very few Catholic officers.
Hume became an independent member of the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1969 at the height of the civil rights campaign. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973, and served as Minister of Commerce in the short-lived power-sharing government in 1974 following the Sunningdale Agreement. He is credited with having been a major contributor, behind the scenes, to the power sharing experiment. He was elected to the Westminster Parliament in 1983.
In October 1971 he joined four Westminster MPs in a 48-hour hunger strike to protest at the internment without trial of hundreds of suspected Irish republicans. A founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), he succeeded Gerry Fitt as its leader in 1979. He has also served as one of Northern Ireland's three Member of the European Parliaments and on the faculty of Boston College, from which he received an honorary degree in 1995.
Hume was directly involved in 'secret talks' with the British government and Sinn Féin, in effort to bring Sinn Féin to the discussion table openly. The talks are speculated to have led directly to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. Although opposed to the non-violent tactics of Sinn Féin's para-military wing, the IRA, he knew that without Sinn Féin's participation, no peace agreement could succeed. He also knew that only Sinn Féin had enough influence over the para-military organization to convince them to declare a cease-fire and, eventually, to decommission all weapons.
However the vast majority of unionists rejected the agreement and staged a massive and peaceful public rally in Belfast City Centre to demonstrate their distaste. Many republicans and nationalists rejected it also, as they had seen it as not going far enough. Hume, however, continued dialogue with both governments and Sinn Féin. The "Hume-Gerry Adams process" eventually delivered the 1994 IRA ceasefire which ultimately provided the relatively peaceful backdrop against which the Good Friday agreement was brokered.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 alongside the then-leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble. In his Nobel Lecture, which corresponded with the adoption fifty years ago of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he indicated his conviction that respect for human rights must be integral to any society that hopes for peace and stability. He expressed his satisfaction that the European Convention of Human Rights was being "incorporated into the domestic law of our land as an element of the Good Friday Agreement." In his Lecture, he emphasized Ireland's role as a partner in Europe, where the Europen Union's respect for difference and affirmation of unity in diversity provides a model for the entire world. Its founders had "spilt their sweat and not their blood" in establishing the European Union "and by doing so broke down the barriers of distrust of centuries and the new Europe has evolved and is still evolving, based on agreement and respect for difference." All conflict arises from the problems of difference, he said but as such differences is an "accident of birth" it should "never be the source of hatred or conflict." He also spoke about the waste and futility of violence, which he had always opposed.
On his retirement from the leadership of the SDLP in 2001 he was praised across the political divide, even by his longtime opponent, fellow MP and MEP, the Rev. Ian Paisley, although, ironically, Conor Cruise O'Brien, the iconoclastic Irish writer and former politician was a scathing critic of Hume, for what O'Brien perceived as Hume's anti-Protestant bias, but this is definitely a minority viewpoint. On February 4, 2004, Hume announced his complete retirement from politics, and shepherded Mark Durkan as the SDLP leader and successor. He did not contest the 2004 European election (which was won by Bairbre de Brún of Sinn Féin) or the 2005 United Kingdom general election, which Mark Durkan successfully held for the SDLP.
Hume and his wife, Pat, continue to be active in promoting European integration, issues around global poverty and the Credit Union movement. In furtherance of his goals, he continues to speak publicly, including a visit to Seton Hall University in New Jersey in 2005, or the first Summer University of Democracy of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, July 10-14, 2006).
Hume also holds the position of Club President at his local football team, Derry City F.C., of whom he has been a keen supporter all his life.
All links retrieved May 17, 2018.
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