A decision by SDLP leader John Hume today that he is to stand down as a member of the European Parliament could clear the way for Sinn Fein to elect its first MEP this summer.

Mr Hume also revealed that when the next general election to the Westminster parliament in London. is called, he will not be standing as an MP.

The Nobel prizewinner, 67 last month, has been in poor health for some time and said he was retiring on medical advice.

Mr Hume's decision to retire came weeks after aging unionist hardliner, Ian Paisley, announced he would not be standing for Europe in June.

Mr Hume had already been selected as the SDLP's European candidate and his withdrawal wil pose a major problem for the party ahead if its annual conference later this month.

Announcing his decision at a packed news conference in a Belfast hotel Mr Hume said he had been ``very honoured'' to represent the people of the Six Counties in Europe .

``In retiring from my European work I am doing so on medical advice, due to the large workload and amount of travel that is involved.''

At an emotional news conference, he said: ``Europe is the best example in the history of the world of conflict resolution.''

Mr Hume's announcements signal the end of a political career which started with the civil rights movement back in the late 1960s.

In 2000 Mr Hume left his seat in the Belfast Assembly and a year later stood down as leader of the SDLP.

Mr Hume cited the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which remains largely unimplemented, as the highlight of his political career.

He said: ``It was the first time in history that people of this island came out in strength to vote on how they wish to live together.''

In a clear message to the parties trying to resolve the political deadlock, he said: ``The real message of that is that it is the duty of all true democrats to uphold the will of the people.

``It is the duty of all true democrats to implement the will of the people and implement all of the Agreement.''

In a direct message to Ian Paisley's anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party he said: ``The time has come to prove the word democratic in your party name means what it says - implement the will of the people.''

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2004 Irish Republican News