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John Hume: Nobel laureate and former leader of Northern Ireland's SDLP has died

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John Hume died in the early hours of Monday morning, his family have said
John Hume died in the early hours of Monday morning, his family have said   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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John Hume, the former leader of Northern Ireland's moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and key proponent in the country's peace process, has died aged 83.

His family announced the death in a statement on Monday, saying the Nobel Prize winner had dementia and had died in the early hours of the morning after a short illness.

They also thanked staff at the Owen Mor nursing home in Derry for their "exceptional" care in the final months of his life.

"As a family, we are unfailingly inspired by the professionalism, compassion, and love they have shown to John and all those under their care," the statement said.

"We can never adequately show them our thanks for looking after John at a time when we could not."

BJOERN SIGURDSOEN/NTB
John Hume was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in bringing peace to the island of IrelandBJOERN SIGURDSOEN/NTB

It added: "The family drew great comfort in being with John again in the last days of his life.

"John was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and a brother.

"He was very much loved, and his loss will be deeply felt by all his extended family."

Hume, a Catholic himself, is chiefly known for being a key figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, having insisted on the importance of holding talks with republican party Sinn Féin.

Despite this initially sparking anger among unionists, it eventually paved the way for the signing of the peace declaration - bringing an end to the Troubles.

Hume was later recognised for his achievements by the Nobel committee, who awarded him the peace prize in 1998 along with David Trimble, the then-leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

In a short statement on its former leader on Monday, the SDLP praised Hume for bringing the country to a place he had imagined: "At peace and free to decide our own destiny."

Joining the Northern Irish civil rights movement in the 1960s, Hume pictured Ireland as "two powerful traditions" that would find peace with agreement rather than one-sided victory.

He also saw the prospect of a self-governing Northern Ireland that would have power divided among the groups inside the nation.

"Ireland is not a romantic dream; it is not a flag; it is 4.5 million people divided into two powerful traditions," he once said.

"The solution will be found not on the basis of victory for either, but on the basis of agreement and a partnership between both.

"The real division of Ireland is not a line drawn on the map, but in the minds and hearts of its people."

'A towering figure in Irish public life'

News of the death on Monday prompted a reaction from multiple world leaders who strongly remember the civil rights leader's impact on finding peace on the island of Ireland.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was "impossible" to express the significance of Hume's life as one of the "towering figures" of Irish public life.

He added: "His vision and tenacity saved this country. We owe him and his wife Pat so much."

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said Ireland should "bow our heads in respect and thanks" after news of the passing.

"What an extraordinary man, peacemaker, politician, leader, civil rights campaigner, family man, Derryman, inspiration.

"May he rest peacefully and his legacy live on. Sincere sympathy with Pat and family."

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who signed the Good Friday Agreement alongside then-Irish leader Bertie Ahern to end the Troubles paid tribute to a "political titan" whose role in the peace process was "epic".

He wrote: "He was insistent it was possible, tireless in pursuit of [peace] and endlessly creative in seeking ways of making it happen.

"Beyond that he was a remarkable combination of an open mind to the world and practical politics.

"In any place, in any party, anywhere, he would have stood tall. It was good fortune that he was born on the island of Ireland.

"I was fortunate to work with John on the Good Friday Agreement, but also to get to know him years before.

"He influenced my politics in many ways, but his belief in working through differences to find compromise will stay with me forever.

"My thoughts are with Patricia and the rest of his family. He will be greatly missed."

Dan Chung/AP1998
From left to right: Bertie Ahern, US Senator George Mitchell and Tony Blair after the signing of the Good Friday AgreementDan Chung/AP1998

To adhere to current guidelines on social distancing, Hume's family have said a funeral will be arranged with "strict rules" on numbers but assured that a later memorial service would be held for people to pay their respects.

They added: "Above all, we know that John would have prioritised public health and the safety and health of our communities.

"We are grateful for your condolences and support, and we appreciate that you will respect the family's right to privacy at this time of great loss."