John Hume’s illness in the years leading up to his death meant he was unaware of Brexit, but had he been he surely would have been also aware of the collateral damage it could inflict on the ‘Belfast Accord and the Peace Process. We who had so long enjoyed his imposing presence have been left behind in these times by his imposing absence.
Now is the time to remember who he was, what he did, why he did it, what we owe him and how we can continue to be the hands, heart and spirit of his work. First and foremost, Hume was a parliamentarian who used the European Parliament and Westminster to defend his positions, defend his cause and gain support for his vision. The Northern Ireland Assembly is part of this vision, and every effort should be made through dialogue and consensus to ensure that it continues, stabilizes and fulfills the promise and principles of the Agreement. from Belfast. John was a brilliant networker, forging allies in the United States, Europe, Britain and Ireland through the strength and integrity of his vision.
While Joe Biden’s presidency promises a renewal of the massively successful efforts of US administrations – especially under Bill Clinton – Brexit has altered one of the main pillars that John rightly saw as essential to the peace process. He set a future agenda very different from that envisaged by the Belfast Accord.
One of Hume’s great accomplishments was to persuade Irish Nationalists and Republicans to consent to the maintenance of Northern Ireland’s position within the UK in exchange for the provision of the agreement that allows the possibility reunification of Ireland by consent if the people of Northern Ireland vote in favor of it by referendum.
Until Brexit, the debate over the reunification of the island of Ireland has conventionally focused on the raw numbers of Catholics and Protestants and the demographic changes which will give Catholics in Northern Ireland a relatively short period of time. majority vote for the first time since the partition. In some quarters, it has been presented as a redress for old wrongs, with an unhealthy focus on the past. Now, such a debate has the potential to focus on the future and building through dialogue and consensus the best way forward for relations between the two sides of the island of Ireland and their British neighbor.
If John Hume were alive today, he would warn us that preparing for a future watershed referendum requires a powerful objective analysis of all the issues raised by an end to partition.
Immediately after the referendum in Britain in 2016, the then taoiseach, Enda Kenny, obtained the agreement of the EU only if in the future, under the terms of the Belfast agreement and the Irish Constitution , Ireland’s partition was over, so the North would return to the EU with no problem. This is an important new element in the Irish unity debate, given the strength of cross-community support in Northern Ireland for staying in the EU and for liberal social policies more in line with European values. Much of what was taken for granted a few years ago can no longer be taken for granted.
The Brexit debacle was a sobering lesson in how not to approach a referendum, and if John Hume were alive today he would warn us, as the man who painstakingly planned and refined the shape of the ‘Belfast Agreement during many years of difficult negotiations, that preparing for a future referendum on a watershed requires an objective and powerful analysis of all the issues raised by the end of partition, from identity fears to governance and to representation, from flags and emblems to the island’s relations with Great Britain, and from economics to esotericism. He would be happy to see the army of academics and new institutions coming together to provide the area of careful analysis that will be needed.
We have all inherited this mess; we did not create it. We try to build bridges between us and towards a better future
The British plantation and the partition of Ireland were not noble undertakings. They cast long, long ominous shadows in the centuries to come. No one foresaw or cared about the human consequences. We live with them. We have all inherited this mess; we did not create it. We are trying to build bridges with each other and towards a better future.
That we have nearly a quarter of a century of a functioning international peace agreement that has transformed relations on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and the United Kingdom, it is thanks to many hearts and hands, but among them stands John Hume, Irishman, European, politician and pastor, whose deep personal faith in a loving creator of all mankind was expressed not in theological preaching or a beating bible, but in the simple principles of equality of citizenship, respect, tolerance, partnership and mutual development of a common economy. interests.
He lived and died believing, like me, that “the European Union is the most living testimony to the ideal that we all work better together and for each other. Simply put, the European Union is the most powerful symbol of conflict resolution in our history ”.
This article is based on Mary McAleese’s opening speech at the Inaugural Hume 2021 European Conference hosted by the John & Pat Hume Foundation