Category: Archive

Hume has wordsof hope at Echo’s70th celebration

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

In his first visit to the United States since winning the Nobel Peace Prize in October, SDLP leader John Hume arrived in New York Saturday to be honored with his wife, Pat, at the Irish Echo’s 70th anniversary celebrations.

Throughout the event at the United Nations building on Monday evening, speakers praised the Humes for their consistency and philosophy of non-violence, often drawing comparisons to leading peace figures and Mr. Hume’s assured place in Ireland’s own history.

President Clinton, addressing the audience via a pre-recorded video presentation, said the Humes had been a "bedrock of hope" in Northern Ireland through their philosophy of cooperation and non-confrontation. The president drew laughter from the audience when he suggested there was only one prize left after the Nobel — the Irish Echo’s E Pluribus Unum Award for Hume.

Both first lady Hillary Clinton and Seamus Heaney sent statements that honored the Humes’ three decades of work. Heaney called the Humes peerless in their efforts toward a peaceful solution to the Troubles. The Irish ambassador to the U.S., Seán O’hUiginn drew comparisons to other international peace leaders. In a reference to Abraham Lincoln Hume had allowed people to "think anew and act anew."

After a video montage of the Irish Echo’s history and the presentation of a Waterford crystal bowl, Hume told the audience of his hope that the next century would be the first "without killing on our streets."

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It was, he said, people who had rights and not territory, and the Good Friday peace agreement had brought on opportunity to "spill sweat and not blood," in forging cooperation and respect for diversity. Differences were not a threat, he said, but merely an accident of birth.

To oppose the agreement offering that opportunity was nothing more than Fascist, Hume said.

"The Irish people have now spoken and spoken very clearly," he said.

Before an audience of several hundred Irish American leaders, politicians and media figures, Hume also managed to join a three-member band for a very passable rendition of "The Town I Loved So Well."

Speaking at his hotel before the celebrations, Hume laid out the philosophy that he has constantly applied to the troubled North and how the Nobel prize had buttressed those beliefs. The prize, he said, was a powerful expression of the international support for the peace process.

"That is why I see it is not just as an award to myself," he said. "Something that I have been aware of for some time is the massive good will that there is toward our situation and that has been strengthened by the Nobel announcement.

"The challenge facing us now in the North in the implementation of the new agreement is the harnessing of this good will and translating it into real economic benefits for all sections of our people."

The Good Friday agreement is not a solution, but a framework within which to forge cooperation, he said in his speech at the Echo celebration.

"When you have a deeply divided people and at the heart of that division is a distrust and prejudice of centuries, you don’t get rid of that in a week or a fortnight," he said.

It would, he noted, take a generation or two for a new Ireland to evolve, one based on a respect for diversity and based on a different model to anything put forward by either side in the past.

While decommissioning continues to hinder current negotiations, Hume reiterated his position that the agreement must not be allowed to falter because of discussions over arms.

"To resolve that issue we should devote our energies to implementing all aspects of the Good Friday agreement, which includes decommissioning, not as a precondition but carried out parallel to the implementation of the other aspects," he said.

Addressing the role Irish Americans would play in Ireland’s future, Hume said the diaspora of the Irish had only strengthened their position.

"We’re living in a much smaller world than their ancestors, a world in which we cannot live apart," he said. "Because we Irish have been the biggest wandering people in the world, we can now become one of the most powerful people in the world if we harness the real strength of our diaspora."

That role would be particularly beneficial in the economic sphere.

"I see Ireland becoming the off shore island, not only of the united states of Europe, but of the United States of America," he said.

Earlier on Monday, Hume was also presented with an honorary doctorate of laws from Fordham University, and was scheduled on Tuesday to receive another doctorate in humane letters from Iona.

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