Published: 08:34, 03 August 2020
| Updated: 11:30, 03 August 2020
Former SDLP leader John Hume has died at the age of 83.
Mr Hume, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for efforts in forging peace in Northern Ireland, had suffered ill health for a number of years.
The former Foyle MP had dementia and was being cared for in the Owen Mor nursing home in Londonderry.
Mr Hume, a former MEP for Northern Ireland, was a founding member of the party he went on to lead for 22 years.
He was a key figure in the civil rights movement of the late 1960s and throughout his political career remained steadfast in his commitment to non-violence.
His participation in secret talks with then Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a key catalyst for the nascent peace process.
The SDLP leader faced intense criticism, including some from within his own party, when his dialogue with Mr Adams became public in 1993.
Despite threats to his life, he persisted with his efforts to engage with the republican movement and to convince the IRA to end its campaign of violence
The highlight of his career came in 1998 with the signing of the historic Good Friday accord that largely ended Northern Ireland’s 30-year conflict.
Along with Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble, now Lord Trimble, Mr Hume was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to stopping the bloodshed.
In 2010, Mr Hume was named “Ireland’s Greatest” in a poll by Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE.
Former prime minister Tony Blair praised Mr Hume’s “epic” contribution to the peace process.
He 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 and he will rightly be remembered for it. He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen.”
Taoiseach Micheal Martin described Mr Hume as a “great hero and a true peace maker”.
“Throughout his long life he exhibited not just courage, but also fortitude, creativity and an utter conviction that democracy and human rights must define any modern society,” he said.
“For over four decades, he was a passionate advocate for a generous, outward-looking and all-encompassing concept of nationalism and republicanism. For him, the purpose of politics was to bring people together, not split them apart.”
Irish President Michael D Higgins said Mr Hume had transformed and remodelled politics in Ireland.
“All of those who sought and worked for peace on our island of Ireland, and in the hearts of all, will have been deeply saddened by the passing of John Hume, Nobel Peace Laureate and statesman,” he said.
The president noted Mr Hume’s personal bravery and leadership and “steadfast belief in the principles and values of genuine democracy”.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Hume was Ireland’s most significant and consequential political figure.
“It is no exaggeration to say that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland Hume imagined – an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny,” he said.
“This is an historic moment on this island, but most of all it is a moment of deep, deep sadness. In the days ahead, Ireland will be united in mourning his loss.
“However, amidst that national mourning, it is equally true that the marking of John’s death also opens up a space to reflect on, and celebrate, the magnitude of his life.
“As part of that reflection of John’s work, never has the beatitude rung truer – blessed be the peacemakers.
“The life of John Hume will forever be a blessing upon this island since Ireland is now blessed by the peace he gifted to us all. It is the greatest legacy a political leader can bestow upon his country.”
In a statement, Mr Hume’s family said: “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 of Owen Mor nursing home in Derry.
“The care they have shown John in the last months of his life has been exceptional.”
They added: “John was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather and a brother. He was very much loved, and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family.
“It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: we shall overcome.”