Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams says John Hume’s decision to meet him for talks in 1986 “was a breakthrough moment in Irish politics” and described the Good Friday Agreement as “a landmark moment for both of us”.
Paying tribute to the Nobel laureate, Mr Adams said he had had “the courage to take real risks for peace”.
Beginning in 1986, the Hume-Adams talks resulted in a number of proposals which were passed to the Dublin government on the understanding they could form the basis for a lasting peace in Ireland. The groundwork had been laid for a ceasefire by the Provisional IRA and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking today Mr Adams remembered Mr Hume as “down to earth” and courageous.
“When others were stuck in the ritual politics of condemnation John Hume had the courage to take real risks for peace. His decision to meet with me in September 1986, following an invitation from Fr Alex Reid, was a breakthrough moment in Irish politics.
“John’s agreement to examine the potential of building an alternative to conflict was the mark of a political leader genuinely prepared to look at the bigger picture and to put the wider interests of society above narrow party politics.
“This was at a time when the great and the good in the political and media establishments on these islands were committed to marginalising and demonising Sinn Féin.”
Mr Adams said it had taken “even greater courage to stick with it” after they had made their first Hume-Adams joint statement in April 1993. He said Mr Hume had been subjected to a “vitriolic and deeply hurtful and personalised campaign” and faced criticism “from some within his own party”.
The former Sinn Féín TD also paid tribute to Pat Hume who he said was her husband’s “mainstay, his life partner and constant adviser and supporter”.
Mr Adams recalled his fondest memory of hos political counterpart.
“Over the many years of private conversation I got to know John well and we came to trust and respect each other’s opinions, and to accept that our common objective was to end conflict on the island of Ireland and create the conditions for a lasting peace with justice.
“John was very down to earth and easy to talk to. Our conversations were never combative. He listened attentively to my opinions while ably arguing his own views when we disagreed.
“I have many happy memories of my engagements with John. The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 twelve years after we first met was a landmark moment for both of us. But one of my favourite memories is of John and I standing in the White House during St Patrick’s Day celebrations in March 1995 singing the The Town I Loved So Well to an appreciative and much bemused Irish-American audience.”
The Sinn Féin veteran said the contribution to politics of the former SDLP and civil rights’ leader “cannot be underestimated”.
“When others talked endlessly about peace John grasped the challenge and helped make peace happen.”