March 1, 2024
John Hume

John Hume: An Irish Politician

John Hume was the 16th President of Sinn Féin, before he passed away in 2017. He served as the first Leader of the First Dáil and was a founding member of both Amnesty International and Greenpeace.

He is often referred to as “the man with red hair”. The Irish politician died in 2017, but John Hayward’s latest works were published a few weeks ago to remember his life and career. 

He had an influential role in Ireland’s fight for independence from Great Britain during the latter half of the 20th century. Hume became president after Gerry Adams’ retirement in 1983.

About John Hume

John Hume was born in Derry, Northern Ireland on the 2nd of February, 1937. He was raised a Roman Catholic. His father, Alfred Hume, was an insurance salesman and his mother, Mabel Lillian Hume (née Allen), was a housewife.

John is Protestant by background but he married Pat Ramsey in 1962 after marrying his first wife Margaret (died 1988) with whom he has two children.

John attended St Joseph’s Secondary School and St Columb’s College before graduating from the University of Ulster with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Political Science in 1961. He started work as an official for the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions.


Hume went to the Northern Ireland School of Law at Queens University Belfast in 1964. He was a leader because he advocated for worker rights and founded the “Belt and Braces Club” for Catholic students.

Hume also began his political career. He was a member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Hume graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Laws degree, before becoming a barrister at law with Middle Temple in London in 1966. After returning to Northern Ireland, he became head of his department at the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU).

In 1969, John Hume became Vice-Chairman of the SDLP before being elected to Parliament in 1970.


Over the next few years, Hume was active in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and was involved with the CSEU.

He became a principal organizer of the Belfast Labour Party, organizing its campaigns against Catholic civil rights and its campaign to legalize contraception. It was he who had helped get Gerry Fitt elected in North Down.

In 1971, Hume became Leader of the SDLP after Martin Smyth left to become MP for Ballymena.

Political career

Over the next few years, Hume’s political career flourished. In 1973, he was elected to Belfast City Council for the areas of Oldpark and Mountpottinger.

Between 1974 and 1976, Hume was a part of the Council of Ireland and served as chair of the Northern Ireland Committee from 1976 to 1978. He also became a member of Dublin Corporation in 1977.

Meanwhile, his party gained a high number of votes in the election for the European Parliament in 1979 with Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) winning enough votes to take one seat and Hume winning two – one for himself and one for Gerry Fitt. The DUP refused to take their seat after Hume used his position as MP to campaign against them.

Hume continued to fight for the civil rights of Catholics in Northern Ireland when he helped to found the organisation called “Council for Justice” which was a result of him making a proposal at the European Parliament during 1974.

It was this organisation that eventually led to the founding of Amnesty International. In 1979, John Hume received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast and in 1987, he received an honorary Doctorate in Law from University of Ulster.

Talks with Sinn Féin

John Hume became aware of Gerry Adams and one day phoned him up to arrange a meeting at Hume’s home. A friendly relationship started and Adams often visited Hume’s home when his own home was not available (Adams had just left prison).

Over the years, John Hume and Gerry Adams grew to be close friends. In 1981, they agreed that they would work together to negotiate a peaceful end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

John Hume was an important part of the peace process. He helped to create a channel between Sinn Féin and the SDLP in 1984, while he was visiting university students in New York City.

They wanted talks with Sinn Féin, but couldn’t get their message through because of the ban on Sinn Féin.

Hume was able to find their message and met with senior members of Sinn Féin in 1985. In 1986, he had an IRA delegation to his home.

Working together

In 1988, John Hume joined the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. He allowed Sinn Féin candidates to use his office as a place of contact. The following year he became President of the organization. He went on to speak at every Ard-Fheis until he stood down as leader of the SDLP in 2001.

Despite losing several elections during this time, Hume won one back in 1995. He served as MP for South Down until 2001 and was also returned as Member of Assembly for Newry & Armagh from 1998 until 2001.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.


In 2001, John Hume left his position as leader of the SDLP, but he didn’t leave politics completely. In 2002, he became a member of the Senate.  He became a member of the Council of Europe in 2005 and served as President from 2007 to 2010.

John Hume also took part in peace talks with Gerry Adams during 2002. When Adams requested that they meet with representatives from Sinn Féin to discuss a resolution for Northern Ireland’s future. Eventually, this led to the IRA’s decommissioning of its weapons in 2005.

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