John Hume

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John Hume
John Hume 2008.jpg
Leader of the
Social Democratic and Labour Party
In office
1979 – 6 November 2001
Deputy Seamus Mallon
Preceded by Gerry Fitt
Succeeded by Mark Durkan
Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly
for Foyle
In office
25 June 1998 – 1 December 2000
Preceded by New Assembly
Succeeded by Annie Courtney
Member of the British Parliament
for Foyle
In office
10 June 1983 – 11 April 2005
Preceded by Constituency Established
Succeeded by Mark Durkan
Member of the European Parliament
for Northern Ireland
In office
10 June 1979 – 13 June 2004
Preceded by New creation
Succeeded by Bairbre de Brún
Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament
for Foyle
In office
24 February 1969 – 30 March 1972
Preceded by Eddie McAteer
Succeeded by Parliament abolished
Personal details
Born (1937-01-18) 18 January 1937 (age 85)
Derry, Northern Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party SDLP
Spouse(s) Patricia Hume
Children 5
Alma mater St Columb's College
St Patrick's College, Maynooth
Profession Educator
Religion Roman Catholicism

John Hume, KCSG (born 18 January 1937) is an Irish former politician from Derry, Northern Ireland. He was a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and was co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, with David Trimble.

He was the second leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a position he held from 1979 until 2001. He has served as a Member of the European Parliament and a Member of the British Parliament, as well as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

He is regarded as one of the most important figures in the recent political history of Ireland and one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process. He is also a recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, the only recipient of the three major peace awards. In 2010 he was named "Ireland's Greatest" in a public poll by Irish national broadcaster RTÉ to find the greatest person in Ireland's history.[1] In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made Hume a Knight Commander of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great.[2]


John Hume was born in Derry with an Irish Catholic background. His great-grandfather was a Presbyterian immigrant from Scotland.[3] Hume was a student at St. Columb's College and at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, the leading Catholic seminary in Ireland and a recognised college of the National University of Ireland, where he intended to study for the priesthood. Among his teachers was the future Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich.

He did not complete his clerical studies, but did obtain a M.A degree from the college, and then returned home to his native city and became a teacher. He was a founding member of the Credit Union movement in the city, and was chair of the University for Derry Committee in 1965.[4]

Hume became a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s along with people such as Hugh Logue. Hume was prominent in the unsuccessful fight to have Northern Ireland's second university established in Derry in the mid-sixties. After this campaign, John Hume went on to be a prominent figure in the Derry Citizen's Action Committee. The DCAC was set up in the wake of 5 October march through Derry which had caused so much attention to be drawn towards the situation in Northern Ireland. The purpose of the DCAC was to make use of the publicity surrounding recent events to bring to light grievances in Derry that had been suppressed by the Unionist Government for years. The DCAC unlike Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), however, was aimed specifically at a local campaign, improving the situation in Derry for all, and maintaining a peaceful stance. The committee also had a Stewards Association that was there to prevent any violence at marches or sit-downs.

Involvement in the Credit Union movement

Hume was a founder member of Derry Credit Union. At the age of 27 he became the youngest ever President of the Irish League of Credit Unions. He served as President from 1964 to 1968. He once said that "all the things I've been doing, it's the thing I'm proudest of, because no movement has done more good for the people of Ireland, north and south, than the credit union movement."[5]

Political career

Hume was active in the Nationalist Party in the early 1960s, but resigned in 1964, following the disinclination of many in the party to work with the National Political Front.[6]

Hume became an Independent Nationalist member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1969 at the height of the civil rights campaign. He was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973, and served as Minister of Commerce in the short-lived power-sharing government in 1974. He stood unsuccessfully for the Westminster Parliament at the Londonderry constituency in October 1974, and was elected for Foyle in 1983.

In October 1971 he joined four Westminster MPs in a 48-hour hunger strike to protest at the internment without trial of hundreds of suspected Irish republicans. State papers that have been released under the 30 year rule that an Irish diplomat 8 years later in 1979 believed John Hume supported the return of internment, however the SDLP have strenuously denied this.[7]

In 1977, Hume challenged a regulation under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922 which allowed any soldier to disperse an assembly of three or more people. Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Lord Lowry held that the regulation was Ultra Vires under Section 4 Government of Ireland Act 1920 which forbade the Parliament of Northern Ireland to make laws in respect of the army.[8]

A founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), he succeeded Gerry Fitt as its leader in 1979. He has also served as one of Northern Ireland's three Members of the European Parliament and has served on the faculty of Boston College, from which he received an honorary degree in 1995.

Hume was directly involved in 'secret talks' with the British government and Sinn Féin, in effort to bring Sinn Féin to the discussion table openly. The talks are speculated to have led directly to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

However the vast majority of unionists rejected the agreement and staged a massive and peaceful public rally in Belfast City Centre to demonstrate their distaste. Many republicans and nationalists rejected it also, as they had seen it as not going far enough.[9] Hume, however, continued dialogue with both governments and Sinn Féin. The "Hume-Adams process" eventually delivered the 1994 IRA ceasefire which ultimately provided the relatively peaceful backdrop against which the Good Friday agreement was brokered.


Hume is credited with being the thinker behind many of the recent political developments in Northern Ireland, from the power-sharing Sunningdale Agreement to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Belfast Agreement. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 alongside the then-leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble.[10]

When David Trimble became First Minister it was expected that Hume would take the role of his deputy, being leader of the second largest party, the SDLP. Instead this role was handed to Seamus Mallon, also of the SDLP. Some political journalists cited a bad working relationship between Hume and Trimble despite collecting the Nobel prize with him.[11]

On his retirement from the leadership of the SDLP in 2001 he was praised across the political divide, even by his longtime opponent, fellow MP and MEP, the Rev. Ian Paisley. Hume holds the Tip O'Neill Chair in Peace Studies at the University of Ulster, currently funded by The Ireland Funds.[12]


On 4 February 2004, Hume announced his complete retirement from politics, and shepherded Mark Durkan as the SDLP leader and successor. He did not contest the 2004 European election (when his seat was won by Bairbre de Brún of Sinn Féin) or the 2005 general election, in which Mark Durkan retained the Foyle constituency for the SDLP.

Hume and his wife, Pat, continue to be active in promoting European integration, issues around global poverty and the Credit Union movement. In furtherance of his goals, he continues to speak publicly, including a visit to Seton Hall University in New Jersey in 2005, the first Summer University of Democracy of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 10–14 July 2006), and St Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada 18 July 2007. A recent building in the National University of Ireland, Maynooth was named after him.

Hume also holds the position of Club President at his local football team, Derry City F.C., of whom he has been a keen supporter all his life.[13]

John Hume is a patron of the children's charity Plan Ireland.[14][15]


  • Honorary D.Litt, St Thomas University, Fredericton, N.B., 2007[16]
  • Honorary LL.D., Boston College, 1995. One of the 44 honorary doctorates Hume has been awarded.
  • Four Freedoms, Freedom of Speech Medal Recipient, 1996[17]
  • Nobel Prize for Peace (co-recipient), 1998.
  • Martin Luther King Peace Award, 1999[18]
  • International Gandhi Peace Prize, 2001.
  • Freedom of two cities; Derry City in 2000 & Cork in 2004.[19][20]
  • Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders Prize, 2005 (presented by the Martin Luther King International Chapel, Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia)
  • Honorary Patron, University Philosophical Society, Trinity College Dublin.
  • Ireland's Greatest (public poll conducted by RTE), 2010
  • Knight of Saint Gregory, 2012

Ireland's Greatest

On 22 October 2010 John Hume was announced as Ireland's greatest person. This was announced by Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show after a vote by RTE viewers. Hume was up against Michael Collins, Bono, James Connolly and Mary Robinson for the title.[21]

Further reading

  • John Hume, 'Personal views, politics, peace and reconciliation in Ireland,' Town House, Dublin, 1996.
  • John Hume, ‘Derry beyond the walls: social and economic aspects of the growth of Derry,' Ulster Historical foundation, Belfast, 2002.
  • Barry White, 'John Hume: a statesman of the troubles,' Blackstaff, Belfast, 1984
  • George Drower, 'John Hume: peacemaker,' Gollancz, 1995
  • George Drower, 'John Hume: man of peace,' Vista, London, 1996
  • Paul Routledge, 'John Hume: a biography,' Harper-Collins, London, 1997
  • Gerard Murray, 'John Hume and the SDLP: impact and survival in Northern Ireland,' Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1998.


  • "Over the years, the barriers of the past—the distrust and prejudices of the past—will be eroded, and a new society will evolve, a new Ireland based on agreement and respect for difference."[22]
  • "I thought that I had a duty to help those that weren't as lucky as me."[23]


  1. "John Hume proud of 'Ireland's Greatest' award". RTÉ News. 26 October 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "John Hume knighted by Pope Benedict". BBC News. 6 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. McCrystal, Cal (4 September 1994). "Ceasefire: It's all just coming together for the fixer: John Hume risked all when he met Sinn Fein. Now there's talk of a Nobel Peace Prize. Cal McCrystal reports".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Gerald McSheffrey, Planning Derry: Planning and Politics in Northern Ireland, p.110
  5. John Hume Interview – page 3 / 8 – Academy of Achievement
  6. Brendan Lynn, Holding the Ground: The Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland, 1945 – 72 (1997), ISBN 1-85521-980-8
  7. "Top diplomat thought Hume wanted return of internment".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Robert Lynd Erskine Lowry; ODNB
  9. Northern Ireland: Conflict and ChangeJonathan Tonge (2002)
  10. Peace 1998
  11. Abstracts: From process to procession. Calling John Hume. Waiting for a breakthrough – Business, international
  12. "Tip O' Neill Chair: John Hume". University of Ulster. Retrieved 8 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Listing of club positions, including Hume as President: Accessed: 06112009
  14. "Girls offer key to achieving Millennium Goals". Plan Ireland. Retrieved 24 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Our Supporters". Plan Ireland. Retrieved 24 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. St. Thomas University – Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada[dead link]
  17. [1] Archived 6 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  18. Irish News, 6 January 1999
  19. "John Hume receives freedom of Derry". RTÉ. Retrieved 5 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "'Peace warrior' Hume gets the freedom of Cork". Irish Independent. Retrieved 5 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "John Hume in running to be named 'Ireland's Greatest'". BBC News. 22 October 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "John Hume Profile". Academy of Achievement. 24 October 2009. Retrieved 15 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "John Hume Interview". Academy of Achievement. 8 June 2002. Retrieved 15 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Parliament of Northern Ireland
Preceded by
Eddie McAteer
Member of Parliament for Foyle
Succeeded by
Position prorogued 1972
Parliament abolished 1973
European Parliament
Preceded by
New creation
MEP for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Bairbre de Brún
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
constituency created
Member of Parliament for Foyle
Succeeded by
Mark Durkan
Northern Ireland Assembly
Preceded by
New creation
MLA for Foyle
Succeeded by
Annie Courtney
Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
Deputy Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party
Succeeded by
Seamus Mallon
Preceded by
Gerry Fitt
Leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party
Succeeded by
Mark Durkan