Among the many words written about John Hume recently, relatively little has been said about the European dimension of his beliefs. Reading Martin Kettle’s comments (John Hume’s politics went far beyond Northern Ireland – his vision is as urgent as ever, 5 August), I was reminded of a story I heard him tell more than once.
As a newly elected MEP in 1979, he went for a walk one evening across the bridge over the Rhine from French Strasbourg to the German town Kehl. In the middle of the bridge he stopped and imagined someone else standing there 30 years earlier – just after the second world war, with Europe lying in ruins. He used to say: “If that person had proposed that in 30 years’ time we would all be together in a united Europe, with the French still being French and the Germans still being German, they would have been sent to a psychiatrist.”
John Hume was a fervent believer in European integration, and he drew inspiration from the European experience for his work in Northern Ireland.
• When the new European parliament building opened in Strasbourg, John and I were neighbours and had many an opportunity to chat about various things, ranging from politics to Gaelic football. These discussions would often spill over to the members’ coffee bar, where over coffee (or something a little stronger) they would carry on.
Hume was instrumental in securing for Northern Ireland, with the help of others, millions of pounds of EU money by way of a peace fund. He was a great man who deserves to be up there with other great men like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
(Former Labour MEP), Warrington
• Martin Kettle is right to point out that most of the problems John Hume confronted in Northern Ireland are present in today’s bitterly divided Britain, which will remain so while our current third-rate leader is in power. Interestingly, Hume’s recognition that “building bridges meant talking to, and listening to, the extremes as well as the centre ground” and that “there was no future for a system in which one tradition exercised total power and ignored the excluded” was echoed more recently by the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Unfortunately, few listened.
Little Birch, Herefordshire
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