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Statement by Minister Coveney on the passing of John Hume

I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of John Hume today. My thoughts are first and foremost with John’s wife, Pat, with their children and with their wider family. I extend my sympathies also to everyone in the SDLP party which John helped to found and led for so many years. Today they have lost a colleague and a friend, and the people of Ireland, North and South, have lost a great leader and a true patriot.

A lot will be written and said about John in the coming days, months and years. This is only fitting for a man whose work in the cause of peace has touched every life on this island and beyond. It is difficult to encapsulate such a legacy in only a few words.

The immense courage that John showed in the most difficult days of the Troubles inspired and sustained so many throughout the darkest of times. His courage was quiet yet unyielding. It drew its strength from the unshakeable bonds of family, friendship and community that John and Pat forged in the city of Derry, particularly through his early work for the regeneration of the city through the credit union movement and the campaign for a university there.

As the Nobel Committee and many others have rightly recognised, John was a peacemaker by vocation. However, he was also dogged in his pursuit of necessary political change, always with absolute faith in the use of purely peaceful means to bring about that change. The enduring power of John’s vision of an agreed and reconciled Ireland continues to guide so many of us in political life today.  

Today we should also remember the other great political passion of John’s life: European unity and solidarity. John saw decades ago what is only too clear to us today: that the profits of European unity are not measured in euros or pounds but in peace and stability, and that “the European Union is the best example in the history of the world of conflict resolution”. Perhaps better than any politician of his generation, John Hume learned the lessons of Europe’s terrible history and he carried them with him into the long negotiations that became the Good Friday Agreement.

John was also one of the first to have the foresight and vision to draw on the support and solidarity of friends across the globe for a peaceful settlement to the conflict, in particular in Europe and the United States. As he himself recognised, “the achievement of peace could not have been won without this goodwill and generosity of spirit”, and he spoke for us all when he said that we in Ireland appreciated this support more than words can say. We still do.

John also had a vision for Ireland and Britain post-conflict, for our peoples to transcend all narrower political differences, and for our two islands to live in friendship and amity with each another; we hold to that vision today as strongly as ever.

The monumental achievement of the Good Friday Agreement and the hope that accompanied its signing in 1998 will be forever associated with John Hume. With the Agreement now in its 22nd year, and with the Institutions operating again after some years of difficulty, we must also acknowledge the need to continue to work towards genuine reconciliation, spilling – as John himself would say – our sweat and not our blood. The people of this island, and indeed of these islands, can ask for no better principles than those of the Good Friday Agreement to guide us into the future.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, John quoted the words of Louis MacNiece to sum up the challenges facing all of us, North and South, Unionist and Nationalist, on the island of Ireland: “By a high star our course is set, Our end is life. Put out to sea”.  In his life’s work, John showed us the way ahead, even in the darkest of days; in his passing, he continues to do so.

Laoch mór na h-Éireann is na h-Eorpa ab ea é. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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