At noon today, John Hume will be gently laid to rest in Derry, the town he loved so well. As he is buried, we should not let the great good that he has done to be interred with his bones.
et no one dare attempt to airbrush his formative influence in shaping and making today's peace. Without his political genius, there would be no peace, no partnership and no reconciliation possible. It is the solemn duty of all democrats, but especially those in the SDLP, the party which he created, to secure his inspirational message for the future and achieve his ultimate aim of the reconciliation of our divided people.
Working with John Hume was an extraordinary experience, which I have always treasured. For many years, I saw at close quarters the dedication that marked his political life.
At several international events, I witnessed the admiration and respect with which politicians from many different countries across the political spectrum regarded him.
In the United States, he had superstar status, especially on Capitol Hill. Politicians of both major parties sought his counsel and attention. Senator Ted Kennedy was a close personal friend and supporter.
I remember, in particular, that we attended a European socialist conference in Berlin just after the fall of the Wall in 1989. There, he presented a piece of a peace wall from Belfast to Willy Brandt.
Brandt, the former mayor of a divided Berlin, was moved and praised John's commitment to peace, not just in Ireland, but also in Europe, through his steadfast support for the European Union.
He could be demanding, as was his right as a political leader, steering not just a political party, but a political project to its successful conclusion. At times, he was under enormous personal pressure, which I believe ultimately damaged his health.
He sacrificed his life so that others might live their lives to the fullest. His greatest wish was to create a world in which each individual could achieve their full potential.
But, in order to do so, the right structures had to be established for people to live in peace and with the freedom to express their political identities.
As Seamus Mallon asserted shortly before he died, John Hume's political stature was as great as that of Daniel O'Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell.
These two political giants dominated Irish politics in the 19th century and were firmly committed to peaceful parliamentary politics and radical political reform in an Ireland then dominated by Britain for many generations.
John Hume, who was in that democratic nationalist tradition, likewise dominated Irish politics in the second half of the 20th century.
The impact of his thinking was so influential that he radically reshaped the political thinking, not just of nationalists and republicans, but also unionists. As leader of the SDLP, he outlined a new approach to solving our problems through dialogue and peaceful persuasion. His analysis was that, in order to bring about a lasting peace in Ireland, the root cause of that division had to be tackled.
He was adamant that it could not be resolved through political violence. Violence could only exacerbate the problem. Famously, he would often proclaim that we should spill our sweat, not our blood.
That root cause was the historic division between the nationalist and unionist political traditions within Northern Ireland, which could be gradually and systematically addressed by the representatives of both traditions, working by agreement through mutually agreed structures.
Through working together, trust would then develop and through that trust the conditions necessary for reconciliation would also emerge. This would in time lead to the ultimate reconciliation of the people, both north and south.
That reconciliation would bring about a new Ireland, in which all people could live together in peace and security, without undermining their cherished political identities.
John was a visionary, not just in relation to Irish politics, but also in relation to Europe, which he saw as the greatest example of successful conflict resolution.
He saw the need for Ireland and Britain to be part of a greater community of nations, where all could work together to build and maintain the peace established in Europe after two massively destructive wars.
As an MEP, he was greatly respected by all parties and could well have become the president of the parliament, but for his dedication to political life here. He was also offered by the parties in the south the Irish presidency, but this he declined due to commitments here.
John Hume was an extraordinary leader of the SDLP and an exceptional political thinker. Above all, he was a statesman. His imprint was present on all major initiatives, from Sunningdale to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, as well as his ultimate achievement, the Good Friday Agreement.
May he rest in peace.