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John Hume: Northern Ireland’s Magnetic Leader and Peacemaker, Part 1 of 2

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An Irish politician, John Hume spent his life in the tireless pursuit of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. He was widely regarded as one of the most important figures of the Northern Ireland peace process. As the Catholic leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, he was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, which was signed in 1998 by Northern Ireland’s largest political parties, ending decades of conflict. For his efforts, John Hume was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He also received the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, making him the only person to win these three major peace awards.

John Hume was born in Londonderry, also known as Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1937. John Hume felt he had a duty to help those who were not as lucky as he and founded the Derry Credit Union with a few friends. John Hume also became involved in founding a housing association to relieve the housing shortage in Londonderry. When his plans to build 700 homes were met with resistance from the planning permission department, he got into politics. John Hume was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973, serving as Minister of Commerce in 1974. He was also a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in 1970, and nine years later, became its leader.

In the 1980s, John Hume initiated private talks with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin, a political party committed to the unconditional unification of Ireland. Despite facing many risks and backlash, he courageously persisted in the peaceful dialogues, creating a number of proposals which are widely acknowledged as having paved the way to peace in Northern Ireland, including a ceasefire agreement in 1994.

John Hume pressed the governments in Ireland and Britain to enter talks with all parties. He enlisted support for the peace process from the United States of America and notably from former president His Excellency Bill Clinton, who is also a Shining World Leadership Award for Compassion Laureate. The British and Irish governments invited former United States Senator George J. Mitchell to chair the peace negotiations that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The foundation for a lasting peace had been set.

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