Remembering John Hume’s key role in NI’s Good Friday Agreement
2018-04-15 11:19:39 -


Michael McGowan
The 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is a time to celebrate a historic initiative, and a time to reflect on how two decades of peace have been achieved in Northern Ireland.
The importance of support from both the United States and Europe in helping to end the Troubles should also be recognised, as should the influence of Nobel laureate, former MP and MEP, John Hume, as a key participant in the process.
It is sad that Hume has suffered ill health for several years, and it is also disappointing that, along with the late Mo Mowlam who served as Northern Ireland secretary in the late 1990s, he has been almost written out of the story of achieving peace in Northern Ireland.
But it is simply a fact that the Good Friday Agreement would not exist without John Hume.
Filmmaker Maurice Fitzpatrick has helped to put the record straight with his powerful documentary In the Name of Peace, which outlines the important influence of the US in support of the peace process and which has helped to restore John Hume to his rightful place in history.
Born and raised in Belturbet, Co Cavan, near the Fermanagh border, Fitzpatrick studied English at Trinity College Dublin, after which he spent time in Norway and taught in Japan and Germany, but he says: “I always kept an eye on Ireland.”
Fitzpatrick is among those in Ireland and the diaspora alike concerned with the ignorance of even recent Irish history, including a lack of awareness of the activities of John Hume which eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement. For his new film, he interviewed former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the latter of whom was a pivotal influence on the agreement; US senator George Mitchell, who was charged with bringing all sides to the table; and former Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon, who said that Hume should be regarded in Irish history alongside such luminaries as Parnell and O’Connell.
John Hume’s work in Europe as an MEP was crucial to the Northern Ireland peace process. Indeed, Mitchell said of the Good Friday Agreement: ”I believe the talks would never have occurred had there not been a European Union”.
It should also come as no surprise that Michael Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has been focused on the Good Friday Agreement in his talks as he is a former EU commissioner responsible for the EU Peace Programmes in Northern Ireland. As Commissioner for Regional Policy, Barnier’s second Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland prioritised economic renewal, social integration, and cross border co-operation, all supported by EU funding including €531m in structured funds. Much of that funding has transformed Northern Ireland since 1998, particularly Belfast, where I was on the day of the vote on the Good Friday Agreement.
Brussels policy makers were supportive of both civil society activists and programme managers through the days of the Troubles before that moment. EU social inclusive programmes channelled resources to those disadvantaged communities bearing the brunt of the violence. The fingerprints of John Hume were on many of these initiatives.
The Good Friday Agreement is not just an internal document. It is part of the UK’s constitution and an international treaty that has guaranteed peace in Northern Ireland since 1998. It also would not have been possible without the influence of the European Union, not only in the text itself but also in achieving the peace it underpins.
Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.


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