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John Hume - RIP

10th August 2020
By Brendan Mulgrew 

Shortly after the establishment of the Assembly under the structures of the Good Friday Agreement I went to a meeting in Parliament Buildings where the senior SDLP team was teasing out, in excruciating detail, the functions and personnel of the Stormont departments. At one stage an exasperated and impatient John Hume has clearly had enough. ‘What are all these initials? What is OFMDFM!?’ That’s the Office of First and deputy First Minister John. ‘Well just say that then!’

John Hume was not a man to pore over the finer details of administration, fortunately there were plenty in the ranks of the SDLP who revelled in such tasks, leaving John Hume to focus on the big picture. It was always about the big picture for John Hume.

When I was a kid, our house fell silent when John Hume appeared on the news. It is no exaggeration to say my parents idolised him, because they like so many others, longed for the peace and agreement that he was searching for and always, always trying to convince political opponents, and colleagues, was achievable. ‘There’s John now’, my Dad would say, ‘turn it up.’

John was the man we needed at a time we needed him. Who else could have brought the problems of Northern Ireland to the heart of Europe, to the top of the American establishment? More significantly he brought Europe and America to us and that includes the investment and jobs in which he placed so much emphasis . Without Hume there would not have been the impact felt when the US Government became so heavily involved in those mid 1990s talks and initiatives.

I worked for Joe Hendron following his election as MP in 1992 and John was a frequent visitor to our Falls Road offices, pre and post IRA ceasefires. John worked with Joe and used his considerable network of American contacts and his influence to bring much needed investment to west Belfast, never of course taking his eye off Derry’s needs. His work rate was huge, he was getting pulled in multiple directions at once and was clearly under huge political pressure which he absorbed and felt personally.

Yes his speech on peace, agreement and partnership was a single transferable one, purely as he later explained, ‘because not everyone has heard the message yet, so I’ll keep on saying it.’ To him it was that simple.

Enough people heard you in the end John, that is what matters now and we are all better off for that and for all of the work you did.  

This article first appeared in the Newsletter on 4th August 2020 
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