MICHAEL WOLSEY: Without John Hume there might have been no peace process. Without Gerry Adams there might have been no need for one.
John Hume led Ireland out of darkness so it was fitting that Ireland lit a candle for John Hume – thousands of candles, in fact, in homes and churches all over the country.
I don’t suppose they lit many candles on Belfast’s loyalist Shankill Road but I heard a Shankill woman on television declare that she had “said a wee prayer … I just loved that man, so I did.”
Among all the fine words and grand oratory, this stood out as the most heartfelt of tributes, possibly the one that John would have liked best.
Sinn Féin’s northern leader, Michelle O’Neill, and the party’s former president, Gerry Adams, were among those who paid tribute and it was hard not to contrast the restrained and dignified funeral of Mr Hume with the funeral in June of the republican, Bobby Storey, which both Ms O’Neill and Mr Adams attended.
At another time, John Hume’s funeral might have drawn a million mourners to the streets of Derry and other towns, but his family and friends would not risk lives by encouraging a breach of the Covid-19 restrictions.
The republicans who organised Mr Storey’s funeral showed no such concern, turning what was, no doubt, a sad and genuine family occasion, into a showpiece extravaganza.
The different styles typify the differing approach to politics taken by Sinn Féin’s leadership and other nationalist politicians, most obviously Mr Hume who always put his country before his party.
The names of John Hume and Gerry Adams will be forever linked because the Hume-Adams talks paved the way for peace. But the men were not equal sides of an equation.
Without John Hume there might have been no peace process. Without Gerry Adams there might have been no need for one.
John Hume helped found the SDLP to give a political voice to the Civil Rights Movement, which he also helped found and which exposed the rotten structure that years of unionist government had built in Northern Ireland. The IRA undermined the Civil Right Movements and subverted its peaceful protests.
Following the Sunningdale Agreement in 1973, John Hume and the SDLP (then led by Gerry Fitt) entered a power-sharing executive at Stormont, which was as good as the present one. In some respects it was better: the coalition was voluntary, ministers worked together like a proper cabinet and there was a statutory all-island dimension in the form of a Council of Ireland. The council had limited authority and, in fact, never met, but the structure was there and could have been improved and extended if the executive had survived.
One reason it didn’t survive was that the IRA never gave it a chance. Its continuing campaign weakened the authority of the SDLP and made life impossible for those unionists who were willing to share power.
There were other reasons for the failure of the executive: loyalist violence, divisions in unionism and the total ignorance of Northern Ireland displayed by two British governments. But the IRA played its part.
Mr Adams, as we all know, was not a member of the IRA, nor was he the most influential voice in Republicanism at the time of the Sunningdale collapse. But he became a very influential voice over the next 25 years while the Provos continued their murderous campaign.
John Hume brought Gerry Adams in from the cold and was vilified for it. He sacrificed his party for the sake of peace, opening the door to normal politics for Sinn Féin who would soon devour the SDLP.
John Hume was the architect of the Good Friday Agreement which, in 1998, allowed Sinn Féin to enter a new power-sharing executive: Sunningdale for slow learners, as it was billed by that other great man of peace, Séamus Mallon.
Gerry Adams also took chances to bring about peace and deserves thanks for that, but our gratitude should be qualified. If someone is bashing your head against a wall you will be thankful when they stop, but you are bound to reflect that it would have been better if they had never attacked you in the first place.
John Hume never attacked anyone; he worked for a lifetime to make the attacks stop.
I have respect for Gerry Adams but I find it ridiculous and shocking that he should be equated with John Hume, as Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou McDonald did in their tributes.
Mr Hume’s equals are from a different time and a different league: Charles Stewart Parnell and Daniel O’Connell.