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'Everyone in Ireland owes John a great debt of gratitude'

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John Hume and Bertie Ahern

John Hume and Bertie Ahern

John Hume and Bertie Ahern

My friend John Hume had a very simple view: You have to talk to your enemy.

Doing that creates huge risk for democratic governments but if you want to make progress, you have to accept that the status quo can't remain untouched.

Today Ireland is at peace, largely because of a man who stayed going when it seemed everyone had turned against him.

John's perseverance was ultimately rewarded with a stable peace process and thankfully global recognition of his role in Irish history.

Over a glass of white wine he often reminded me that he was the only man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1998), the Martin Luther King Jnr Nonviolent Peace Prize (1999) and the Gandhi Peace Prize (2001).

John got millions of awards. He would be able to recount all of them but those were the ones he would always go back to.

My first memories of John were after I was elected in 1977.

He used to drift into the Dail and was regularly caller to the Members' Bar. I started getting friendly with him in the early 1980s after I became Fianna Fail assistant whip. We would meet with the SDLP to discuss events and he struck me as a great character. Always nice, on top of his game, giving advice and opinions on how things should be handled.

He'd spend days in Leinster House briefing people on the latest crisis in the North and every party would have an open door for him, regardless of who was in government or opposition. John was unquestionably the big link in the bad years between north and south.

During the early 1980s he spent a lot of time working on the New Ireland Forum. Veronica Guerin was actually secretary to the forum and I remember many a cup of tea was had with Veronica and John during that time.

We had a difference of opinions over the Anglo Irish Agreement (1985) but it never hurt our personal relationship.

Even when everyone turned against him, he kept going. There was a point where it seemed like he was doing it on his own.

Myself and John used to often go to Fagan's when I was Taoiseach. The Derry bus would drop him off across the road at my office, St Luke's, and I'd get one of my drivers to drop him back into town for the bus back afterwards.

The lads in there would make a big fuss out of him and it was always great fun. Although one day I remember there was a conversation about the decommissioning of arms and somebody else brought up Charlie Haughey and the importation of arms. John got a bit confused and started telling them off, saying "I never imported arms".

Democracy

Eventually we got to the Good Friday Agreement. The only thing he really wanted to see was the all-island vote.

He said this was a way of taking away the IRA's argument that they had a mandate from the first Dail in 1918.

If the Good Friday Agreement was put to the full island and passed, then the IRA's mandate ceased. I backed him on that to make sure it happened. Tony Blair couldn't understand why I wanted it because we were talking about trying to overwrite something from 1918.

That all-island vote made so much sense in the end.

Every person on this island, nationalist, unionist or whatever, owes John Hume a great debt of gratitude for delivering democracy, freedom and human rights through methods many said were naive.

He gave us peace in our time, may he now rest in peace.