Belfast Telegraph

Unionism 'failed to grasp how much clout John Hume had in USA'

By Noel McAdam

Unionists made a mistake in not recognising the influence of John Hume in the United States, a DUP MP has claimed.

In a new documentary on the former SDLP leader, which has just had its world premiere in Galway, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said unionism failed to catch on soon enough that Mr Hume would use Washington to put pressure on the British Government to "do business" with Dublin.

In The Name Of Peace: John Hume In America also features interviews with former US Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, ex-PMs John Major and Tony Blair, and former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Trimble.

Narrated by Liam Neeson, it was made with the full cooperation and participation of the Hume family and will be screened in Northern Ireland.

Referring to the early 1990s, Mr Donaldson said: "I think that it was a mistake that unionism didn't recognise earlier the importance of that influence, the significance of that influence, the way in which Hume would use the pressure point of Washington to apply pressure on London to do business with Dublin, almost to the exclusion of the unionists.

"So I don't think that we really caught on to that soon enough and it was only in the latter years that we began to recognise that there was no point howling at the Moon for John Hume and his influence in Washington.

"We needed to be on the (Capitol) Hill; we needed to be in Washington giving the counterbalance to that influence and saying: 'Look, any solution in Northern Ireland has to be one which both sides can endorse'."

Lord Trimble and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who was among those attending the screening in Galway on Thursday, agreed that the key to Mr Hume's political strategy was "inclusivity".

Mr Ahern also said a North-South referendum on the Belfast Agreement held on the same day had been Mr Hume's idea, not his.

"He told me to float it and get Blair on-side," Mr Ahern said.

"This was on the basis that the last all-island vote was in 1918, which was perceived to have legitimised the (IRA's) armed struggle.

"John Hume's idea was to get past that, and he was 100% right."

Lord Trimble, who won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Mr Hume, said unionists would have regarded the civil rights movement which Hume spearheaded in the late 1960s as unnecessary "and as being something that opened the door to violence".

But, speaking in the documentary, he added: "There was one really very important thing that John was saying, from a fairly early stage onwards, of saying that the problem about Ireland was not that the land is divided, but that the people are divided.

"And consequently what one had to do is to focus on the divisions between and among the people."

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