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Sinn Fein and DUP have squeezed hope out of people ... they should remember John Hume's vision

By Seamus Mallon

A new documentary film examines Nobel laureate and former SDLP leader John Hume's role over many years in seeking to engage the United States in the Northern Ireland peace process. I was very reluctant to see the film and even more reluctant to write about it. My fears were based on previous films about Ireland, which reeked of sentimentality, 'old sod' songs and stories and the dreaded 'shamrockry' associated with Ireland in America. But this one shows how a skilled practitioner of the art of politics, like John Hume, can clearly define his objectives and remain aloof from all distractions, which would essentially weaken their resolve.

The central question for many who see In The Name of Peace: John Hume in America will be why Hume had to go to seek out the assistance of those in the United States who wielded power. Knowing John as I do, it was not to curry personal favour, nor to enjoy the pleasure of American hospitality. No, it was neither of these.

Quite simply, there was nowhere else to go. The Irish government in the late 1960s was beginning to exert the pressure on the British Government which could create a lasting solution. Put crudely, Britain was very reluctant to challenge the unionist veto, which had brought Northern Ireland to the brink of civil war. The only place from where that could come was from the US.

But first Hume had to convince US political leaders to exert the kind of pressure which might distort their long-standing relationship with Britain. The remit he gave himself - and the message he gave to political America - was based on the core sentence in an SDLP policy document, Towards a New Ireland, which said: "To bring about a solution where Irish people of different traditions can build institutions of government to provide for lasting peace and stability on this island and for new harmonious relations with Britain itself." That simple paragraph became a lifetime's work for us all.

Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton, with the Speaker, Tip O'Neill, responded to his call. Margaret Thatcher confirmed that when she is reported to have said (after the implementation of the Anglo Irish Agreement) that the Americans forced her to do it.

The fallout from Hume's unremitting efforts could be seen in the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 and the signing of the Anglo Irish Agreement. For the first time, the British Government agreed to a role for the Irish government in a search for a solution.

Equally fundamental was that, for the first time, the unionist veto on Northern Ireland affairs was broken. This was groundbreaking.

For four centuries, every edict had been framed to ensure a unionist majority and each one failed. A new ball game had begun. The President Carter Initiative, The All-Ireland Fund, created jobs in deprived areas; fair employment legislation followed, as did a new dispensation on policing.

Hume, however, could not have had succeeded had it not been for the Irish government and its determined officials. After decades of dormancy, a new creative approach in Washington and London attracted interest and, ultimately, support from senior influential people.

Tip O'Neill and Ted Kennedy were joined by Patrick Moynahan and Hugh Carey to pursue the end of violence and lasting peace on this island. The Hume/Kennedy axis and an Irish government committed to peace and justice was a powerful team and a potent symbol of the creation of a new Ireland.

The bitter irony, of course, is that Sinn Fein, who were wet-nursed into the political process by Hume and Kennedy, have, together with the DUP, squeezed the hope for the future out of the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland in their self-indulgent stand-off.

Each still believes that they can achieve absolute victory; what violence and sectarian hatred failed to deliver them is now being pursued through the political process, which they have reduced to a zero-sum game. If one is up, the other must be down; if one is British, the other must be Irish; if one is Catholic, the other is Protestant. More topically, if one wishes to love the Irish language, it must be accompanied by a quasi-language known as Ulster-Scots.

For them, the future is always binary; it must always be either absolute victory, or total defeat. If they watch this film, they would do well to ponder the words of John Hume: "Ireland is not a romantic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5 million people divided into two powerful traditions. The solution will be found not on the basis of victory for either, but on the basis of agreement and a partnership between both.

"The real division of Ireland is not a line drawn on the map, but in the minds and hearts of its people."

Early in the film, a shot of Westminster Square focuses on the statue of Winston Churchill. It is a close-up of his back, silhouetted against the House of Commons. The final image in this film is of John walking away from the camera, slowly along the seafront. It is also shot from behind and focused on his back.

There must surely be a subliminal message in that.

In the Name of Peace is directed by Maurice Fitzpatrick, who is also the author of the accompanying book, John Hume in America: From Derry to DC (Irish Academic Press). Seamus Mallon was deputy First Minister from 1998 to 2001 and deputy leader of the SDLP from 1979 to 2001

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