New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. International
3 August 2020

“John Hume protected us from the worst of Brexit”: Claire Hanna remembers the late SDLP leader

Claire Hanna, the SDLP MP for South Belfast and a family friend of John Hume, discusses the Nobel laureate’s legacy and argues that he created the “toolkit” that prevented a hard Brexit.

By Ailbhe Rea

The late John Hume created the “toolkit” that prevented a hard Brexit, the SDLP MP Claire Hanna has argued, paying tribute to the former party leader and Nobel laureate whose death was announced on 3 August. 

Speaking to the New Statesman podcast for a special episode to celebrate the life and legacy of Hume, the South Belfast MP remembers a family friend and a “visionary” political leader who was a key architect of the peace process in Northern Ireland. 

“Throughout his life, he led people away from the base responses that had always characterised politics here,” Hanna recalls. “People had always gone to the trenches and viewed absolutely everything through the prism of green and orange. In the 70s and 80s, when there was unimaginable horror all around him, and nearly every political leader was playing to those base instincts and allowing the evil to just roll on year after year. Everybody else was thinking in militaristic terms.

“He was empathetic before it became the ‘in’ thing. He cried with victims and he always located what he was seeing in how victims were experiencing it and did everything he could do, as he always said, to just save one life. In the end, he saved many, many thousands.”

On the podcast, Hanna discusses Hume’s life and legacy, from the early years of the civil rights movement and his decades of arguing for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Northern Ireland, to his engagement in secret negotiations with Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, which paved the way for the Good Friday peace agreement that brought decades of conflict to an end.  

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

In providing the basis of a power-sharing devolved government, Hume also, Hanna argues, provided Northern Irish politicians with the apparatus to prevent “the worst of Brexit”.

“He essentially protected us from the worst of Brexit by creating the Good Friday Agreement and a kind of ‘toolkit’ to get us out of a hard Brexit. If he hadn’t come up with that, not only would we not have had the opportunities of devolution, we wouldn’t have been able to prevent a hard Brexit, I don’t believe, either.”  

“He really is the model for political leadership,” the South Belfast MP adds, discussing the vast impact Hume’s ideas and example have had on her own approach to politics, from the space and respect he accorded his political opponents and his emphasis on finding the ‘common ground’, to his fundamental focus on the ‘practical and economic’ questions underpinning peace. 

“He said many times that you can’t eat a flag and that the best peace process is a job. Nationalism and unionism won’t put bread on anybody’s table and on their own they do nothing to affect the practical issues that affect people’s lives. That’s true right up to the present day.” 

He provided “a blueprint for leading beyond your authority,” she says, as a “practical person” who used all the levers available to him. “He didn’t really have much status beyond being a constituency MP. But through the force of his personality and visionary leadership, he just solved problems. Wherever you’re coming from, I can’t think of anyone better to model your politics on.”

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change