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Eilis O'Hanlon

The need for a clear-headed assessment of John Hume's legacy is particularly important, considering that much of the criticism of his secret talks with Gerry Adams came from within his own party

Eilis O'Hanlon


The SDLP leader's accolades were richly deserved, but to his deputy, Seamus Mallon, he could be a complicated and often difficult man, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

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Former SDLP stalwarts John Hume with Seamus Mallon

Former SDLP stalwarts John Hume with Seamus Mallon

With former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

With former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Former SDLP stalwarts John Hume with Seamus Mallon

Hercule Poirot said the only way to find out the truth about someone who has died is to ask someone who still thinks that they're alive. That's certainly the case in public life. Once a senior politician's death is announced, the old adage that one should not speak ill of the dead kicks into play. More balanced assessments may come later, but that's not always the case either. The fear of causing offence takes over.

That's certainly been true in the case of John Hume. Friends and foes alike recognised the SDLP leader as a man who abhorred violence and believed down to every cell of his DNA in democracy and dialogue. Even those who didn't share his desire for a united Ireland - or an "agreed Ireland", as he preferred to call it with his genius for an arresting phrase - hailed him as a man of peace.

The accolades were richly deserved. John Hume was a complicated and often difficult man to deal with, but Northern Ireland would have been a far better place if more people had followed him instead of Gerry Adams. He always put the unity of people before that of territory.