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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
Tributes to outgoing SDLP leader
John Hume
John Hume is to step down as leader
Northern Ireland's politicians have paid tribute to John Hume who has announced his intention to step down as the leader of the nationalist SDLP.

Mr Hume, 64, who has been at the helm of the party since 1979, said ill health had forced him to cut back on his workload.

But Mr Hume - who received the Nobel Prize jointly in 1998 with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble - is to remain as an MP and an MEP.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Mr Hume in 1998, said the SDLP leader had played a vital role in changing the focus of nationalism in Northern Ireland.

David Trimble:
David Trimble: "Never doubted Mr Hume's sincerity"
"He deserves credit for his work to redefine Irish nationalism and move it away from simplistic territorial certainties and instead to concentrate on people rather than land and on seeking agreement between the people who actually inhabit the land in question," he said.

Mr Trimble added that he had "never doubted the sincerity of John's ceaseless efforts to find an agreed resolution" throughout the peace process. Ulster Unionist deputy leader John Taylor, another of the province's veteran politicians, said he had always been able to work with Mr Hume during the last 30 years.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said Mr Hume had given "decades of public service" to the province and had showed "courage".

Mr Adams said he made a huge contribution to the peace process adding: "He kept his eye on the prize and away from sectional and other interests."

Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin, a Derry assembly member, said it was the time to "pay a heartfelt tribute to a man who has made a difference".

'Huge role'

British Prime Minister Tony Blair paid tribute to Mr Hume's efforts in building peace in Northern Ireland.

"John Hume has played a huge role over many years in the Northern Ireland peace process and in helping to take the gun out of Irish politics," he said.

Gerry Adams:
Gerry Adams: "Hume showed courage"
"His vision was instrumental in establishing the process that has led to the Good Friday Agreement and I would personally like to thank him for his tireless efforts to realise that vision."

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said Mr Hume was a "symbol of peace."

"For over 30 years John Hume has served his party and constituency and laboured tirelessly in the search for lasting peace on this island.

Tony Blair: Warm tribute
Tony Blair: Warm tribute
"In times when violence and hatred have threatened to overwhelm those who sought a political solution, the name of John Hume became synonymous with the refusal to yield to those forces of hatred."

The retired Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daly, said he was "saddened but not surprised" by Mr Hume's decision.

He said Mr Hume had made a "superhuman" effort in the search for peace.

SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon said the party had been "lucky" to have had a leader of such "courage and perception".

"I think that people will recognise the quality of that leadership and historians will evaluate it in a way which, I believe, will show that it has actually changed the course of thinking within Ireland and laid down a basis for political solutions within the island of Ireland," he said.

'No friend to unionists'

Ian Paisley, leader of the anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist party, who has been a prominent political figure for as long as Mr Hume, said he had been "the real life of the SDLP".

"It will be a break for them and a break for him," he added.

However, anti-Agreement assembly member Norman Boyd of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party said there would be "few tears shed in the unionist community for the resignation of John Hume".

He added: "John Hume has been no friend of the unionist community and over 30 years has weakened the unionist position at every opportunity."

See also:

17 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Hume steps down as SDLP leader
17 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
John Hume: Distinguished politician
08 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
Sinn Fein 'greens' the West
03 Oct 99 | Northern Ireland
Major attacks Hume in memoirs
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