Strasbourg 7 June 2022
President, Members of the European Parliament, Commissioners, Ombudsman, friends.
I am honoured to be here today, to remember and to celebrate the late John Hume, whom we sadly lost in 2020.
It is a testament to the esteem in which John is held that so many of you have joined us.
I would like to give a special welcome to John Jr., and the members of the Hume Foundation who have travelled here today.
[I am delighted also that the sculptor Liz O’Kane is here.
Liz, it is a pleasure to meet you again and to commend you on this wonderful piece, which will stand as a constant reminder of how John Hume saw in the European Union a champion for peace in Ireland, and how he gave voice and built support for his remarkable vision].
[I am delighted also to see the Derry film maker Maurice Fitzpatrick here. Maurice – with Irish government support – made the wonderful documentary John Hume in America, and I know that Maurice is currently seeking support in Brussels and Strasbourg to make a sister documentary - John Hume in Europe – and I wish him the best in this endeavour.]
This bust is a reminder of John’s unwavering commitment to peace on the island of Ireland, his commitment to the European ideal, and the political skill and tenacity with which he bound them together.
John drew inspiration from the principles of respect for difference and of the representation of all people, embodied by the European Parliament.
These became a key part of his political philosophy.
Elected by the people of Northern Ireland in 1979, John served as MEP for twenty-five years until June 2004.
He was fond of telling people of his first visit to Strasbourg –over 40 years ago now - when he crossed the bridge that links Strasbourg in France to Kehl in Germany – the Pont D’Europe.
John was struck by the idea that just over thirty years previously, the two countries linked by this bridge had been embroiled in the most brutal and devastating war in European history.
More importantly, in Strasbourg, in this Parliament, people from across Europe came together, strengthened rather than divided by their diversity, to work together for a more prosperous and peaceful Europe.
For John this was a powerful example of peace and reconciliation.
He saw peace as a “moral duty” and his commitment to that was unwavering.
He made the achievement of what he described as ‘a just and lasting peace for all the people of Ireland’ his life’s work.
At this, he succeeded, for which we all owe him a debt of gratitude.
John’s influence was key in reaching the Good Friday Agreement.
It is fitting to recognise also the determined efforts of others who contributed so much to this achievement.
The pursuit of peace needed courageous politicians like Nobel Laureates John Hume and David Trimble, but also activists like Monica McWilliams, Pearl Sagar and Jane Morrice.
They crossed sectarian lines and ensured that women’s voices were heard and made a positive difference.
Collectively, these and other political and civic leaders helped to create a better future for the whole community.
The Good Friday Agreement shows what can be achieved when we work together in partnership, in Ireland and in the UK, with the support of our friends in Europe and the United States.
And - as imagined first by John Hume - the Agreement was resoundingly endorsed by the people of Ireland, North and South, in transformational referendums in 1998, and it retains that support today.
The people mandated power-sharing, North South and East-West political institutions; principles of partnership, mutual respect and parity of esteem; and the overarching goal of striving “in every practical way for reconciliation”.
All parties to the Agreement need to live up to those principles and objectives today.
And the Good Friday Agreement took inspiration also from the other great institution based here in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe, and in particular the European Convention on Human Rights – which was cited and woven into the Agreement itself.
John regularly reminded us of the role that the European Parliament also played in inspiring the Good Friday Agreement.
In 1998 he told MEPs that: “the peace process in Northern Ireland has been most heavily inspired by the example of this House […] Let us not forget that the European Union is the best example […] in the history of the world, of conflict resolution.”
Pat Hume, John’s wife, also made a significant contribution to peace – in terms of intellect and principles, and in terms of personal commitment, grit and leadership.
Together they were a formidable team.
Since 2011, their native city of Derry, has its own Peace Bridge crossing the River Foyle that was built with the support from the European Union Peace III programme.
[If in attendance: Commissioner Hahn - it is hard to believe it is over 10 years since you travelled to Derry to officially open the bridge, which is both a symbolic and a practical expression of the European Union’s strong support for the peace process.]
Not least, the EU has, through successive PEACE and INTERREG programmes supported a wide range of projects and organisations to advance the work of reconciliation.
The new PEACE PLUS programme, which will have a budget of over €1 billion, continues this important work and reaffirms the EU’s commitment to strengthening peace, reconciliation, and cross-border cooperation in Northern Ireland and across the island of Ireland.
Ireland also deeply appreciates the solidarity that the European Parliament has shown throughout the Brexit process, and your informed understanding of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland.
As the architects of the Good Friday Agreement understood, Northern Ireland needs political frameworks that accommodate its societal, economic and geographic realities, underpinned by partnership between the Irish and UK Governments.
I know that the EU remains committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the progress achieved in the peace process from the challenges brought about by Brexit, and remains united in its commitment to the implementation of the Protocol in a way that works for the people of Northern Ireland.
The EU – fundamentally a peace project – can take pride in its unstinting contribution to the peace process, including to this day.
John Hume’s commitment to principles of non-violence, of respect for diversity, equality and protection of fundamental rights, and his work for peaceful change and social progress has, and continues, to inspire many across Europe.
It is impossible to consider John Hume’s legacy without reflecting also on the terrible reality that brutal war has returned to the continent of Europe.
Just a relatively short journey away, the people of Ukraine are bravely defending their country and our shared values against the onslaught of the Russian army, directed by a man who is opposed to everything we hold dear - democracy, freedom, the rule-of-law.
Those values- our values, John’s values - must prevail. There can never again be a dark curtain across Europe separating those who are free from those who live under autocracy and oppression.
We stand with the people of Ukraine, because it is the right thing to do, and because of the vital Importance of what they are defending.
Ukraine is already part of our European family. It is asking to become part of our European Union. I support the people of Ukraine in that goal and I will work with them to help them achieve it.
John knew the value of bringing people in, of inclusion, and of shared work together.
He was a man of vision, a man of peace.
We salute him and we honour his legacy.