Tributes paid to former SDLP leader and Nobel peace prize winner John Hume

Video report by ITV News Correspondent John Ray

Former prime minister Tony Blair has led tributes to former SDLP leader John Hume, one of the key architects of peace in Northern Ireland, after his death at the age of 83.Mr Hume, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the decisive part he played in ending the Troubles, had suffered ill-health for a number of years.

He died in the early hours of Monday morning.Mr Blair, who was in Number 10 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, hailed Mr Hume’s “epic” contribution to the peace process, describing him as a “political titan”.

“A visionary who refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past,” he said.

“His contribution to peace in Northern Ireland was epic and he will rightly be remembered for it.

“He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of it, and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen.”

Then US President Bill Clinton with then SDLP leader John Hume. Credit: Pacemaker

Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary paid tribute to "our friend" John Hume. "Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend John Hume, who fought his long war for peace in Northern Ireland," they said. "His chosen weapon: an unshakeable commitment to non-violence, persistence, kindness and love. With his enduring sense of honour he kept marching on against all odds towards a brighter future for all the children of Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Mr Hume as a “political giant”, while Irish premier Micheal Martin said he was a “great hero and a true peacemaker”.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill also paid tribute.

Mr Hume, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize for efforts in forging the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, had suffered ill health for a number of years.

The former Foyle MP had dementia and was cared for in the Owen Mor nursing home in Londonderry.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and SDLP leader John Hume Credit: left

Mr Johnson said there would have been no Good Friday Agreement without Mr Hume.

“John Hume was quite simply a political giant,” he said.

“He stood proudly in the tradition that was totally opposed to violence and committed to pursuing his objectives by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.”

The Prime Minister added: “With his passing we have lost a great man who did so much to help bring an end to the Troubles and build a better future for all.

“His vision paved the way for the stability, positivity and dynamism of the Northern Ireland of today, and his passing is a powerful reminder of how far Northern Ireland has come.”

Taoiseach Mr Martin described Mr Hume as a “great hero and a true peacemaker”.

“Throughout his long life he exhibited not just courage, but also fortitude, creativity and an utter conviction that democracy and human rights must define any modern society,” he said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair with David Trimble and John Hume on the last day of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Credit: PA

Irish President Michael D Higgins said Mr Hume had transformed and remodelled politics in Ireland.

“All of those who sought and worked for peace on our island of Ireland, and in the hearts of all, will have been deeply saddened by the passing of John Hume, Nobel Peace Laureate and statesman,” he said.

Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has paid tribute to John Hume as a "giant of Irish politics".

He conceded the pair had "many disagreements", but said they had been able to talk to "promote the primacy of politics".

Mr Adams and Mr Hume had been involved in secret talks during some of the darkest days of the Troubles, an effort that has been credited with bringing about the IRA ceasefire.

UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said: “Life across the island of Ireland is peaceful and more prosperous today because of his courage, vision and determination.

“He guided away from violence and towards justice, tolerance and democracy. He takes his rightful place in the pantheon of leaders whose legacy is of creating a better world for the next generation."In a statement, John Hume's family said: "We are deeply saddened to announce that John passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.

"We would like to extend our deepest and heartfelt thanks to the care and nursing staff of Owen Mor nursing home in Derry."

John Hume's family continued: "The care they have shown John in the last months of his life has been exceptional.

"As a family, we are unfailingly inspired by the professionalism, compassion, and love they have shown to John and all those under their care. We can never adequately show them our thanks for looking after John at a time when we could not. The family drew great comfort in being with John again in the last days of his life.

John Hume's key moments

"We would like also to extend our gratitude to the people of Derry and Moville/Greencastle, who have looked after John and shown us so much kindness as his dementia has progressed."

"Celebrating community in all its diversity went to the heart of John's political ethos and we are very appreciative that our communities supported, respected and protected John.

They added: "John was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and a brother. He was very much loved, and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family."

"John's funeral will be arranged according to the current government regulations with very strict rules on numbers."

SDLP leader John Hume and his wife Pat speak to the media after his Nobel Peace Prize win. Credit: PA

"We realise this will mean that many will be unable to join us and we will arrange a memorial service and a celebration of his life in due course."

"Above all, we know that John would have prioritised public health, and the safety and health of our communities. We are grateful for your condolences and support, and we appreciate that you will respect the family's right to privacy at this time of great loss."

"It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: we shall overcome."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Hume was Ireland's most significant and consequential political figure.

“It is no exaggeration to say that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland Hume imagined – an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

"It is no exaggeration to say that each and every one of us now lives in the Ireland Hume imagined - an island at peace and free to decide its own destiny," he said.

"This is an historic moment on this island but most of all it is a moment of deep, deep sadness. In the days ahead, Ireland will be united in mourning his loss. However, amidst that national mourning it is equally true that the marking of John's death also opens up a space to reflect on, and celebrate, the magnitude of his life.

"As part of that reflection of John's work, never has the beatitude rung truer - blessed be the peacemakers.

"The life of John Hume will forever be a blessing upon this island since Ireland is now blessed by the peace he gifted to us all. It is the greatest legacy a political leader can bestow upon his country."

Former prime minister Sir John Major said: “John Hume was an advocate for peace in Northern Ireland for the greater part of his life.

“Few others invested such time and energy to this search and few sought to change entrenched attitudes with such fierce determination.

“Those whose communities have been transformed into peaceful neighbourhoods may wish to pay tribute to one of the most fervent warriors for peace.

“He has earned himself an honoured place in Irish history.”