John Hume, 1937-2020
Added 08-07-20 12:23:02am EST - “The nationalist politician John Hume will be justly remembered as the most essential Irish political figure of his era. Hume, who died Aug. 3 at age 83, lived a life dedicated to peace, social justice, the unity of the Irish nation,…” - Washingtonexaminer.com
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The nationalist politician John Hume will be justly remembered as the most essential Irish political figure of his era. Hume, who died Aug. 3 at age 83, lived a life dedicated to peace, social justice, the unity of the Irish nation, and constitutional politics. What makes those commitments impressive is that he kept them at a place and time, Northern Ireland between the 1960s and the turn of the century, in which such commitments were so often blown apart in acts of arson, paramilitary violence, bombing, and terror. The peace he helped to build and broker stood on what he called “principled compromise, not compromised principles.”
Born in Derry in 1937, John Hume’s parents experienced the partition of Ireland into the Republic and Northern Ireland. They lived through the sectarian riots that rocked Northern Ireland in the years before their first son’s birth. And they did so in one of the most gerrymandered cities in what was left of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland. Seventy percent of Derry’s population, almost all Catholic, were grouped into one ward represented by eight elected city councilors. The other two wards were divided by the Protestant minority of the city, who elected 12 among them.
Hume dedicated himself to the broad social-democratic political tradition in Europe during the Cold War. In Northern Ireland, that impelled him to found a credit union to drive investment to poor communities and to join the burgeoning civil rights movement. The demands of that movement were similar to the American one that inspired it: One man, one vote —and equal treatment under the law and in employment.
Hume became a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, which combined standard European democratic-socialist politics with a revived Irish tradition of constitutional nationalism, pursuing Irish unity and separation from the United Kingdom through normal electoral politics and organizing. Although his party eventually withdrew from the devolved Parliament of Northern Ireland in Stormont, seeking its reform, it kept sending elected officials to the mother Parliament in Westminster, where it publicized conditions in Northern Ireland.
As a member of that party, Hume was instrumental in drawing up the Sunningdale Agreement in 1973, which was scuttled by unionist opposition in 1974. Sunningdale envisioned a governing body defined by power-sharing between the Catholic Irish nationalist community and the Protestant Unionists. It tied the national governments in London and Dublin to Northern Ireland as consultative powers. That was John Hume’s vision for Northern Ireland as it descended into madness. Similar arrangements were eventually brokered by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which is why that historic peace accord was sometimes derisively called “Sunningdale for Slow Learners.”
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