BELFAST — John Hume, a key Roman Catholic architect of Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday peace agreement who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending 30 years of sectarian violence, died on Monday at the age of 83, his SDLP party said.
Hume, a veteran civil rights campaigner credited with kick-starting peace negotiations in a British region convulsed by bloodshed in the early 1990s, shared the Peace Prize with Northern Ireland’s then-first minister, David Trimble of the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party.
He died in a care home in his native Londonderry in the early hours of Monday morning, his family said.
“John Hume was a political titan; a visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past. His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic,” former British prime minister Tony Blair, who was in office at the time of the Good Friday accord, said in a statement.
Hume in 1968 joined a movement to protect the civil rights of the province’s pro-Irish Roman Catholic minority, fighting against discrimination by the pro-British Protestant majority in everything from housing to education.
As leader of the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), Hume was an important advocate of non-violence as fighting erupted between Irish nationalists who wanted a united Ireland and pro-British forces, including the British Army, who wanted to maintain the region’s British status.
By 1998 over 3,600 had died.
“Right from the outset of the Troubles, John was urging people to stick to their objective peacefully and was constantly critical of those who did not realize the importance of peace,” Trimble told BBC Radio Ulster on Monday, hailing Hume’s “major contribution” to the peace process.
In a pivotal breakthrough, Hume in 1993 took part in pioneering talks with Gerry Adams, who was at the time the leader of the Sinn Fein party that was then the political wing of the guerrilla Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The talks helped pave the way for a joint initiative by the British and Irish governments in 1993 that spawned a peace process and an IRA truce in 1994 – and ultimately paved the way for the watershed Good Friday accord four years later.
“When others were stuck in the ritual politics of condemnation John Hume had the courage to take real risks for peace,” Adams said in a statement. “When others talked endlessly about peace John grasped the challenge and helped make peace happen.”