Eloquent, humorous and passionate in his conviction, John Hume became a leading figure in the Irish civil rights movement in the late 1960s, and an independent member of the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1969. The following year, he and his associates founded the Social Democratic and Labour Party, whose moderate lines would gain increasing support in the coming decades. He became a Westminster Member of Parliament in 1983.
In 1985 Hume initiated private talks with Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, a party committed to the unconditional unification of Ireland, by violence if necessary. When the talks became public in 1993, both men were subjected to ferocious criticism, and physical attacks were made on the homes of SDLP members. He went on, however, to architect the 1998 Good Friday Accord.
Hume formally retired from politics in 2004. On retirement he was praised across the political divide. In the words of former U.S. President Clinton, John Hume remains “Ireland’s most tireless champion for civil rights and its most eloquent spokesman for peace.”