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John Hume
John Hume
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John Hume Interview (page: 3 / 8)

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  John Hume

Mr. Hume, how did you become involved in politics?

John Hume: When I come home from university, of course, I thought that I had a duty to help those that weren't as lucky as I was. And, the first thing I did was not -- I wasn't getting involved in politics, because the politics of those days was basically flag-waving and I had always felt politics should be about the living standards of people. But, when I come home, I wasn't interested in politics in those days, but I was interested in helping people, and I got involved in the Foundation of the Credit Union movement. And, of all the things I've been doing, it's the thing I'm proudest of because no movement has done more good for the people of Ireland, north and south, than the credit union movement.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

What did the Credit Union do for people that wasn't possible before?

John Hume: Before the arrival of the Credit Union, people who were from the poor background or a working class background couldn't borrow from banks. Banks wouldn't have them, and when they needed to borrow money for rearing their children and for furniture, et cetera, for normal things, then the methodology in those days was either from loan sharks or from pawn shops. And, of course, that meant that people were made poorer by all of that, particularly by the charge of loan sharks. So, what the Credit Union movement did, of course, was not only help the ordinary people to have the true value of whatever their income was, but it helped local business, small business, as well, because the money that would have left your city in loan charges remained and were spent. Therefore -- I mean, when we started the Credit Union in those early days, the first few meetings, a few people joined, but very soon it spread rapidly. And today, that Credit Union -- which I was involved in starting in 1960 -- has 22,000 members, and has something over 40 million pounds in savings of the people. And, of course, all over Ireland today, there's 2.2 million members in Credit Union in a population of five million, and I am very proud that I was President of the Credit Union League of Ireland, of the whole of Ireland, when I was 27 years old.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Where did that kind of vision come from, Mr. Hume? Did you always have a feeling that you would be a leader in your world?

John Hume Interview Photo
John Hume: I never thought in terms of being a leader. I thought very simply in terms of helping people. Having grown up as I grew up, I felt that anything I could do to help people I should do it, putting into practice normal attitudes to life. I think most human beings would help other people if they were able to do so.

You also made a very large difference in the lives of your countrymen by making it possible for more people to own their own homes. Could you tell us about that?

John Hume: When I was involved in Credit Union, I decided to do the same in housing, because housing discrimination was very widespread in our city. In working class districts, you had several families living together in the one house, and it was very difficult to get a house, because the politicians who controlled housing were doing so in a very discriminatory fashion.

What I got involved in was founding a housing association to build our own houses in the same manner as the Credit Union, but in the first year or so, we housed about 100 families. Then I put in a plan to build 700 houses, and the local politicians wouldn't give us planning permission because it would upset the voting balance in their gerrymandered system, and that led me straight into politics, led me straight into the civil rights movement. And of course, in the 1960s, civil rights was very much in the international news because of the leadership of Martin Luther King in the United States, and that had a very major influence on people like myself, and we got involved in the civil rights movement, seeking equality of treatment for all sections of our people, and of course, my involvement in the civil rights movement led me straight into politics.

What was the connection between the civil rights movement in America and in Northern Ireland?

John Hume: In Northern Ireland, the civil rights movement was about discrimination and about equality of treatment. The civil rights movement in the United States was about the same thing, about equality of treatment for all sections of the people, and that is precisely what our movement was about.

The slogan that we had was "one man, one vote." Today we would say "one person, one vote," fair allocation of housing and fair allocation of jobs, and those were the three areas of discrimination. For example, in voting in those days, for example, at a local government level where all the discrimination took place, the only people who had votes were people who paid rates. So, if you grew up in your family, your mother and father would have votes because they paid the rent and rates, but you would have none, no vote, and of course, also, in those days, a limited company would have six votes. And, I remember a mayor of our city had 43 votes because he owned seven limited companies, which is 42 votes plus his own. So, that was the civil rights that we were seeking: one person, one vote; fair allocation of housing; and fair allocation of jobs. Ordinary common sense and ordinary decency for our society, and that was our civil rights movement.

Mr. Trimble, you started you political career in the Vanguard party, didn't you? What attracted you to them?

David Trimble: There was a considerable political upheaval in the early '70s when the Troubles began. The established Unionist political leadership seemed to have difficulty in responding to it, and a number of parties came into existence, Dr. Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party came into existence, other groupings came.

Vanguard was originally a "ginger group" within the mainstream Unionist party that evolved into a political party. What I found attractive about it was, unlike the others, it had a coherent response to the situation, and it seemed to me that it was doing some serious thinking about it. I joined Vanguard, and was elected as a Vanguard representative to the Constitutional Convention in 1975.

Unfortunately, although we came very close in 1975 to producing an agreement that would have resolved the situation and indeed, it was my own grouping, Vanguard, and particularly Bill Craig, with whom I was associated at that time, who took the initiative in bringing forward those proposals, which as I say, came very close to producing an agreement. That did not eventuate, and that actually politically destroyed Vanguard as an operation, the controversy over Bill Craig's proposed coalition with the SDLP in 1975 led to basically, first, a split and then a collapse in Vanguard. Vanguard, at that stage, was part of a coalition that embodied the other main Unionist elements, too. And, I had the experience then -- in early 1976 -- of being expelled and found myself in the political wilderness, politically, for the ten years that followed that. But, I remember the particular experience in the early '70s, how close we came to agreement, the areas where we had failed and thought a lot about it over the time, and it did mean that when political opportunities came for me later in the 1990s, that I had the experience of going through a major political upheaval and crisis comparable to that that we experienced in the late '90s.

So in a sense, the setback was a very educational experience for you.

David Trimble: For a person who is involved in politics, politics is not a situation where you have a stable career. Anybody thinks in politics that they are going to have a career that builds in the way that a career in the civil service or in academia or even perhaps some business, they think that is going to happen, is wrong. Politics is very much a game of Snakes and Ladders, and I don't think any politician can really regard themselves as being experienced and fully developed if they haven't experienced failure, and I think failure is actually quite important in that sense.

Seeing how other people react to you when you've had a failure is also quite educative.

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