It has been announced this morning that the former SDLP leader and Noble Peace Prize winner John Hume passed away late last night. He died after a short illness at the age of 83 after suffering from dementia for many years.
In a statement, Mr Hume’s family paid tribute to the care workers at Owen Mór nursing home in Derry.
“John was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and a brother. He was very much loved, and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family,” they said in a statement.
“It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: we shall overcome.”
John Hume was born in Derry with an Irish Catholic background. He was a student at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the leading Catholic seminary in Ireland, where he intended to study for the priesthood.
He did not complete his clerical studies but returned home to his native city and became a teacher and a founding member of the Credit Union movement in Derry. He became a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s and was first elected as an independent nationalist member to the Stormont Assembly in 1969.
A founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in 1970, he succeeded Gerry Fitt as its leader in 1979. He served as a Minister in the Six County administration of 1974 and was elected as Westminster MP for Foyle in 1983.
But as conflict raged in the north of Ireland, it was John Hume’s insistence as SDLP leader on engaging with his party’s chief political opponents, Sinn Féin, which ended the marginalisation of republicans and ultimately became the foundation stone for the peace process.
In 1998, after negotiations successfully led to a peace deal in the form of the Good Friday Agreement, he received the Nobel Peace Prize alongside unionist leader David Trimble.
The 26 County Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said all of Ireland “should bow our heads in respect and thanks”.
He tweeted: “What an extraordinary man, peacemaker, politician, leader, civil rights campaigner, family man, Derry man, inspiration. May he rest peacefully and his legacy live on.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald expressed her condolences to his widow, Pat, to his children and family, friends and colleagues in the SDLP.
“John was a towering figure in Irish politics, who took decisions that were not popular in his own ranks in the pursuit of peace.”She added:
“Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís [His likes will not be seen again].”
Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’ Neill also paid tribute.
“John was a huge figure in Irish politics for many years and was known the world over for his peace making efforts,” she said.
“He was a leader who worked tirelessly for the community and his beloved Derry.”
The current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his death was “an historic moment on this island” as well as a moment of “deep, deep sadness”.
He said the death represents the loss of “20th century Ireland’s most significant and consequential political figure” who would “be spoken of in the very same breath as O’Connell and Parnell”.