By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Nobel peace prize-winner and SDLP leader John Hume has confirmed he is to resign from the Stormont Assembly for health reasons and to cut his workload.
Hume, who is also an MP and an MEP, said this would allow him to concentrate on his parliamentary duties at Westminster. He did not say when he will vacate his seat as an Assembly member for Foyle in Derry.
Shortly after Hume’s announcement last Wednesday, former British Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam said she would be standing down as an MP at the next general election to pursue a career outside parliament.
“This is a personal decision for me,” Mowlam said. “It is one that I have been considering for some time, and have previously discussed with the prime minister.”
Mowlam was made Northern Ireland Secretary by Tony Blair in 1997 and steered
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the Good Friday agreement through its difficult initial stages, but was replaced in October 1999 by Peter Mandelson.
There’s also speculation that Hume, who’s 63, will soon announce his resignation as MP for Derry. One possibility is that he will resign that seat also at the party’s annual conference in November. There are no indications when he might step down as party leader or MEP.
“I have been heavily overloaded with work in recent times,” Hume said. “I have had health problems and I have had to take serious consideration of it. As a result of that I have decided to resign in the near future my assembly seat and to concentrate on my parliamentary work, particularly my European work.”
Under a substitute system, his seat could be taken by party colleague Annie Courtney, who is former nursing sister, mayor of Derry and a sitting councilor. The final decision will rest with Mandelson, who could opt for a by-election.
Courtney could also take over from Hume at Westminster. Previously, it had been thought Mark Durkan would take Hume’s seat, but he is now minister for finance and personnel and a prime candidate for party leader also, on Hume’s retirement from politics, whenever that should be.
Hume received the 1998 Nobel Prize jointly with Ulster Unionist leader and Stormont First Minister David Trimble. He gave his prize money jointly to the Salvation Army and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, both groups working with the poor.
Mowlam made her announcement on Monday after a 15-minute meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair. A Downing Street spokesman said Blair believed she would be “a great loss to the government and a great loss to parliament.”
Her popularity has rivaled that of Blair — a fact believed to have alarmed and irritated the Labor leader and his close aides, including Mandelson.
There have been repeated reports — strenuously denied by Downing Street — that jealous rivals had launched a whispering campaign against her. On occasion, Mowlam herself confirmed that such a campaign was being waged.
Mowlam said she would “continue to pursue my many interests, including in international affairs, conflict resolution and poverty.”