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John Hume
John Hume
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John Hume Interview (page: 4 / 8)

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  John Hume

"The Troubles" started around 1968, Mr. Hume. Can you talk a little bit about the beginning of that?

John Hume: We sought equality of treatment and civil rights and, of course that was refused and the civil rights movement was totally, as it was in the United States, totally non-violent and totally committed to non-violence, but quite often their marches would not be allowed by the government of the day in Northern Ireland. The marches would be stopped in the streets by the police of those days and that of course, created a lot of tension in the community, as well. But, as I say, the philosophy of the civil rights movement was certainly a strong philosophy of my own. I was very heavily inspired by people like Martin Luther King and by Mahatma Gandhi, and I quoted them quite a lot. In fact, in my political party, to this day, we always sing "We Shall Overcome."

But as I say, I then got into politics.

I stood for election and in that election, I sought a mandate to found a new political party based on social democratic philosophy. In other words, that we would deal with real politics, with housing, with jobs, with voting rights, and not into flag-waving politics, because in my belief that was a common ground, and if you work common ground together, that that would end the divisions in our society. First of all, if you had equality of treatment and then you started working in matters that affect all sections of the community, but of course, given the nature of our politics, it was very difficult to break down those barriers because the governing body insisted in standing by the old-style approach, and it has been a hard, long road.

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The violence had broken out in both sides, but our philosophy as a party was very, very clear...

That there was two mentalities and both mentalities had to change. There was what I called the Afrikaner mind set of the Unionist politicians, which was holding all power in their own hands, and discriminating, and their objective was to protect their identity. We agreed that they had every right to protect their identity, but that their methodology should change because when you have widespread discrimination against a community, as we had in Northern Ireland, in the end, it's bound to lead to conflict. And, our challenge to the change of the Unionist mind set was that -- given their objective of protecting their identity, which we have no quarrel with -- that given their geography and their numbers, the problem couldn't be solved without them. Therefore, they should come to the table and reach an agreement that would protect their identity. Then in my own community, of course, what is called the Nationalist community, there was a mind set -- not a majority mind set, but one that, Ireland is -- based on violence, and of course, that mind set I described as a territorial mind set: "Ireland is our land and you Unionists, Protestants, are a minority. Therefore, you can't stop us uniting." Our challenge to that mind set, my challenge to that mind set, was that it is people that have rights, not territory. Without people, even Ireland is only a jungle, and when people are divided, victories are not solutions.

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When people are divided, the only solution is agreement.

We were strongly opposed, myself and my party were strongly opposed to violence, and to the IRA in particular because we argued that when we were a divided people, that violence could not heal the divisions. It only deepened the divisions and made the problem worse. And, of course, violence from one side always led to violence from the other, as well, and you had the doctrine of "an eye for an eye," which, as Mahatma Gandhi did say, leaves everybody blind. So, we strongly opposed violence throughout, and what we did was present our analysis of the problem, saying that the people of Northern Ireland were divided, but they were divided about three sets of relationships. They were divided about the relationships within Northern Ireland, and they were divided about the relationships within Ireland, and they were divided about the relationship with Britain. And that, for the problem to be solved, that those three sets of relationships should be the agenda at any talks. And, given that that should be the agenda, then the British and Irish Governments should be together at the table with all the parties.

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That was our strategy from the beginning. That eventually was achieved in 1998, when we all got round the table and got that agreement. But in those days, the British Government would not talk to the Irish Government about Northern Ireland, because its policy was that Northern Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom, full stop. Therefore, it was none of the business of the Irish Government, ignoring the real problem, which was the conflict of two identities: the Britishness of the Unionist people, and the Irishness of the Catholic people, the Nationalist people.

Mr. Trimble, you joined the Ulster Unionist Party in late 1970s. What was that party doing then? Why did it attract you?

David Trimble: Well, it was the mainstream Unionist party. In the problems that developed in the early 1970s, there was a certain degree of confusion and other parties developed, as did Vanguard. Vanguard grew out of the Ulster Unionist party and many people in Vanguard then ran into difficulties. The natural thing was to move back into the mainstream and work within that. It was the only viable political option in the late 1970s.

The Ulster Unionist Party, in the late 1970s, into the 1980s, was engaged in a very considerable internal debate about what the nature of its policy should be. I engaged in that a bit. I wasn't entirely comfortable with the line that the leadership took in the 1980s, but nevertheless persisted and took part in the internal debate that was there. But, it was really only with the beginning of a talks process in 1991 that the opportunity came to change things, and, by then, I had found myself, a little bit to my surprise, a member of Parliament and returned as one of the party's nine members of Parliament at Westminster. And so, when the opportunity came in 1991 with the beginning of the talks process, I was then finally in a position again to make some contribution politically.

Were there any equivocal feelings about taking a seat in Parliament, given the turbulence of the times?

David Trimble: The opportunity came by surprise. I found myself in a position of being the chairman of a constituency association, in fact, actually, the party leader's constituent association, and there was always, in my mind, the possibility that at some point, he would be standing down, and there would be perhaps the opportunity of seeking the nomination in his seat. And then, tragically, the Member of Parliament of the neighboring constituency, he died in his early '50s from cancer, quite unexpectedly and so consequently, an opportunity arose then and as I say, somewhat to my surprise, I was selected to contest that, and delighted to get the opportunity to do so. I mean, when the chance came to move back into the front line of politics, I had no hesitation in doing so.

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