Nobel Peace Prize laureate and prominent Northern Ireland politician John Hume has died at the age of 83.
He died in a retirement home in Londonderry after a long period of illness.
One of Northern Ireland’s foremost politicians for over 30 years, he helped create the climate that ended the unrest.
He was one of the founding members of the Social Democratic Labor Party (SDLP) in 1970 and led the party from 1979 to 2001.
Mr. Hume played a major role in the peace talks that culminated in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
The former SDLP leader was widely admired for his unwavering commitment to peaceful and democratic politics during three decades of violence in Northern Ireland.
Tributes have been paid at all levels by political leaders past and present, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in office when the peace agreement was signed.
“John Hume was a political titan; a visionary who refused to believe that the future had to be the same as the past, ”said Blair.
“His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic and will be rightly remembered.
“He insisted that it was possible, tireless in its pursuit and endlessly creative in finding ways to make it happen. “
In the late 1980s, Hume took considerable risks for the peace by speaking to then-Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.
The talks were controversial at the time as the IRA was still heavily involved in the violence, but Mr Hume’s goal was to persuade Republicans to engage in exclusively democratic means.
The Hume-Adams talks helped lay the groundwork for the 1994 IRA ceasefire and subsequent negotiations that culminated in the Good Friday deal.
On Monday, Mr Hume was hailed as a “great hero and a true peacemaker” by the current Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Micheál Martin.
“During the darkest days of paramilitary terrorism and sectarian strife, he remained hopeful. And with patience, resilience and unwavering commitment, he triumphed and achieved a victory for peace, ”said Mr. Martin.
Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister Arlene Foster sent condolences to the Hume family and called the former SDLP leader a “giant of Irish nationalism”.
“In our darkest days, he recognized that violence was the wrong path and worked tirelessly to promote democratic politics,” added the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Following the 1998 peace accord, Hume was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with then Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble.
Lord Trimble also acknowledged Mr. Hume’s commitment to the peace efforts in Northern Ireland.
“From the outset of the unrest, John urged people to stick to their goal peacefully and constantly criticized those who did not realize the importance of peace,” he said.
“He has been a major contributor to politics in Northern Ireland, especially the process which gave us a deal that we are still working on.
“It’s extremely important. He will be remembered for this contribution in the years to come. “
‘Legitimacy of the people’
Throughout his long career, the former SDLP leader has spent decades fighting and winning elections in different parliaments in Stormont, Westminster and Brussels.
He was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for over 25 years and held a seat in Westminster as a Member of Parliament for Foyle Constituency for almost 22 years.
Former Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern, who co-signed the 1998 peace deal with Tony Blair, said Mr Hume had been widely criticized for speaking to the IRA early in the process of peace.
But he said the former SDLP leader had taken risks for the peace and had always “seen the big picture” in Irish politics.
Mr Ahern also credited Mr Hume with the idea of ratifying the deal with various referendums on both sides of the Irish border.
“When the Good Friday Agreement was signed by Tony and I, he [Mr Hume] said, “You submit this to the people of the north and the south and it will gain the legitimacy of the people.”
“It was singularly his idea and it was really a brilliant idea,” Mr Ahern told BBC Radio Five Live.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins said Mr Hume had “transformed and reshaped politics in Ireland” and praised his “personal courage and leadership”.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Northern Ireland would not be where it is today “without his leadership and courage”.
“Few people deserved the Nobel Peace Prize more than John – he dedicated his life to peace, and for that the people of Northern Ireland will never forget him,” he said.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described him as “a towering figure, a national icon”.
Mr. Hume had suffered from dementia for many years.
He died in the early hours of Monday at the Owen Mor nursing home in Derry.
In a statement, his family said: “John was a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and brother.
“He was dearly loved and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family. “
You can by no means overestimate the contribution of John Hume to the political development of Northern Ireland.
He was undoubtedly, during those years, the mastermind behind the approach to the peace process.
He worked on different relationships, trying to solve problems that for so many years seemed to be completely unsolved.
He helped create the political space in which different parties could work their way into what has become the Good Friday Agreement.
John Hume fought at very difficult times during the Troubles – when any kind of dialogue was attacked by opponents as a sign of weakness.
He persevered in his efforts to find a solution.
The Hume family also paid tribute to the nursing staff at the Owen Mor retirement home in Derry.
“The care they showed John over the last few months of his life has been exceptional,” their statement said.
“We will never be able to show them our thanks for caring for John at a time when we couldn’t.
“The family found great comfort in being with John again in the last days of his life. “