European Parliament mourns loss of former MEP and Nobel Peace Prize laureate John Hume

Former UK Socialist MEP John Hume, described by some as “the Nelson Mandela of Irish politics”, has died after a short illness aged 83.
European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

03 Aug 2020

Hume was one of the primary architects of the Good Friday Agreement and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1998.

As an MEP, he served as one of Northern Ireland's three MEPs for the Socialist group, from 1979 to 2004.

On Monday, European Parliament President David Sassoli said that John Hume saw that lasting peace could only be built through empathy, tolerance, and democracy.

“He was a member of our Parliament for 25 years and his contribution to Europe will never be forgotten. The thoughts of the whole European Parliament are with his family and friends.”

His Commission counterpart Ursula von der Leyen honoured the lifetime achievements of Hume, saying, "Europe has lost a great champion of peace. Hume dedicated his life to promoting tolerance, civil rights and social justice.”

The S&D Group said in a statement, “John Hume’s great contribution to our social democratic family will never be forgotten. The values he lived by, like tolerance and a lifelong commitment to peace, are now more important than ever. We will work hard to preserve the great legacy he leaves behind.”

Former MEP colleagues were also quick to praise Hume, with Sir Graham Watson, former UK Liberal MEP, telling this site, “I had the honour of serving with John Hume from 1994-2004 in the European Parliament. He was a truly great man and a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. His contribution to European unity during his time in the Parliament is overshadowed by his contribution to Irish unity, but is nonetheless considerable. R.I.P.”

Parliament Vice-President Mairead McGuiness said, “Former MEP John Hume has died but his work for peace and reconciliation lives on in his words and deeds. The European Parliament mourns his passing.”

“John was a good friend for many years - and he was a distinguished and admirable civic leader, politician and statesman. A great European and Irishman who will be much missed by many” Edward McMillan-Scott, former European Parliament Vice-President

Former UK Alde MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, a European Parliament Vice-President from 2004-2014, told this website, “John was a good friend for many years - and he was a distinguished and admirable civic leader, politician and statesman. A great European and Irishman who will be much missed by many.”

Former Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson also told The Parliament Magazine, "I knew John over the 25 years he served as a member of the European Parliament. He was the most approachable and unassuming person, especially for someone who had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and constantly rubbed shoulders with the great and the good."

"John was always interested in hearing about Scotland and would quiz me regularly about the Scottish political scene. His favourite restaurant in Strasbourg, after a long day in the Parliament, was always the Maison Des Tanneurs, where you could be sure to find him at his specially reserved table.”

He added, “He retired from the European Parliament in 2004 but I saw him in Brussels again on several occasions, most notably when he was guest of honour at a dinner involving more than a dozen EU Nobel laureates, when he gave an eloquent presentation about the Northern Ireland Peace Process. He was a great guy."

Former UK Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff also told this website, “He was a pillar of the European Union, knowing how to use European integration in philosophy and in practice to bring peace to Ireland.”

Polish EPP member Danuta Hubner told this site, “I met him only once in my time as EU commissioner for regional policy but the message I took to Brussels was clear - Europe’s duty is to spare no effort to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Now I can add  - with or without Brexit.”

Dr Denis MacShane, a former Europe Minister in the UK, told this website, “John injected European values and ideals into the veins of Ireland and used Europe to finally bring peace to the British Isles.”

Irish EPP deputy Seán Kelly said that John Hume’s legacy is shared not just amongst the Irish, but also in Washington, Westminster, Brussels and across the world, adding, “A man of conviction, integrity and unwavering commitment to peace and equality.”

Former UK Socialist deputy Richard Corbett said, “Sad news. I knew him since 1980. He won the Nobel Prize for initiating the Northern Ireland peace process. In his acceptance speech, he said that it’s actually the EU that is the most successful peace process in history - a point sadly forgotten in Britain.”

Former UK Labour MEP Claude Moraes told this site, "John Hume was a significant statesman as everyone has recognised, but his contribution to the European Parliament and EU was also significant."

"A convinced and passionate pro-European I remember as a new MEP in 1999 him telling me the importance and symbolism of Strasbourg as the Parliament seat. The place where the war and genocide finally gave way to peace. He was a very significant generational figure amongst progressives and those who strive for peace and human rights."

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “John Hume was quite simply a political giant. He stood proudly in the tradition that was totally opposed to violence and committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.”

Former British Premier Tony Blair described Hume as “a political titan” and a “visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past.”

“He [Hume] was a pillar of the European Union, knowing how to use European integration in philosophy and in practice to bring peace to Ireland” Andrew Duff, former UK Liberal Democrat MEP

In a statement his family thanked the nursing staff who had looked after Hume during his illness.

It read: "We are deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness. We would like to extend our deepest and heartfelt thanks to the care and nursing staff … We can never adequately show them our thanks for looking after John at a time when we could not.  The family drew great comfort in being with John again in the last days of his life.”

Further comment came from Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster who said, “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of John Hume.”

“John was a giant figure in Irish nationalism but also in the wider life of Northern Ireland. Whilst he was recognised across the World, there can be no doubt however that his loss will be most keenly felt in his home city.”

Former Irish premier Leo Varadkar described Hume as “one of Ireland’s greatest ever sons,” adding “He ranks alongside O’Connell and Parnell in the pantheon of Ireland’s great leaders. He was a patriot, a peacemaker, a democrat, and a great, great Derryman.”

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said, “Ireland, all of us, should bow our heads in respect and thanks. What an extraordinary man, peacemaker, politician, leader, civil rights campaigner, family man, Derryman, inspiration.”

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