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Friday, October 16, 1998 Published at 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK


Profile - John Hume

John Hume: Staked his reputation on peace process

By BBC Correspondent Gary Duffy

For John Hume, the Nobel Peace Prize recognises a campaign for reconciliation in sectarian Northern Ireland that has dominated his political career.

A respected and admired politician on both sides of the sectarian divide, Mr Hume has staked almost his whole professional credibility on the peace process.

As news of the accolade filtered through, a thrilled party colleague said: "It is everything he deserves - and a bit more."


John Hume - BBC News 24 profile
A former teacher, Mr Hume first came to prominence through the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, when Catholics demanded substantial changes to the way Northern Ireland was run.

He helped to found the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party in 1970, later taking over as its leader in 1979.

Figure of authority

It is a role that, despite the relatively minor standing of his party, has won him influence in Dublin, London, Brussels and Washington.

He has been one of the driving figures behind many of the significant attempts to resolve the Northern Ireland problem over the last 30 years. He had been nominated twice before for the Nobel prize.

Like Ian Paisley, he is one of the most enduring figures on the Northern Ireland political stage.

Mr Hume was a member of the power-sharing executive set up after the Sunningdale Agreement in December 1973, and helped to shape the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which for the first time gave Dublin a limited say in the affairs of Northern Ireland.

Opened talks with Republicans

In 1988, Mr Hume began a series of contacts with the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, which were to prove crucial in developing the current process.

Further talks became public in 1993 amid considerable controversy and hostility, especially from unionists. In defiant mood, Mr Hume declared he did not care "two balls of roasted snow" about all the criticism he faced.

The SDLP leader's strategy was to try to persuade Sinn Fein that the problem in Ireland was not so much the British presence but the divisions between the people of Ireland, Unionist and Nationalist.

Around the same time contact between the UK and Irish Governments led to the Downing Street Declaration, followed by the first IRA ceasefire in 1994.

Support for David Trimble

Mr Hume strongly supported the view that any talks about the future of Northern Ireland should be as inclusive as possible, and when a deal was agreed on Good Friday this year, the participants included Sinn Fein as well as political representatives of Protestant paramilitaries.

He went on to campaign vigorously for a Yes vote in the referendum on the agreement, symbolically shaking hands with his co-Nobel prize winner, the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, in an effort to swing the Unionist vote.

His efforts are known to have taken a toll on his health, and Mr Hume stood aside to let fellow SDLP member Seamus Mallon assume the Deputy First Minister role in the new Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr Hume's Nobel prize also represents a double victory for his old Londonderry school, St Columb's College. The poet Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature two years ago, was also a pupil there.



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In this section

David Trimble: More enemies than friends

John Hume: Midwife to the peace process

Mo Mowlam: London's eternal optimist

Gerry Adams: Between war and peace

Ian Paisley: Ulster's No man

John de Chastelain: Arms and the man

Mallon: Calling a spade a spade

David Ervine: Leaving the past behind