Speaking at a March 18 event in Gasson 100, Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient John Hume predicted that the Northern Irish peace process would continue, despite ongoing disputes about disarmament and outbreaks of violence.
Calling the death of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson - the victim of a March 15 car bombing in County Armagh - "an appalling murder," Hume told a standing-room-only audience that those responsible "were clearly trying to provoke a violent response" and sabotage the peace process.
"I hope," he said, "no one falls into the trap."
Hume's talk, sponsored by the Irish Studies Program, drew administrators, faculty, students and guests of the University, as well as local media representatives.
University President William P. Leahy, SJ, introduced Hume, a frequent visitor to campus who received an honorary degree and spoke at the 1995 Commencement Exercises, calling him "a man of great vision, integrity, tenacity and high energy."
John Hume addresses the audience in Gasson 100 on March 18. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Hume offered a brief overview of the Northern Irish conflict and the steps being taken to resolve it, most notably the 1998 Good Friday agreement which helped set the stage for the new Northern Ireland Assembly, of which he is a member.
For the agreement to work, Hume said, there must be a substantial change in the attitudes predominating the North. The Nationalists, who have tended to view the conflict in territorial terms, he said, must come to realize that "it is people who have rights, not territories."
The Unionists, like South Africa's Afrikaner minority, Hume said, have fought to protect their religious and cultural identity, but their practices have led to discrimination and violence.
"The response to them is, you have a right to protect your identity, but change your methods," Hume said.
Hume cited the European Parliament - of which he also is a member - as a potential model for conflict resolution, having been established only a few decades after the second of the century's two bloody world wars. It is grounded in the principle that "difference is not a threat, but the essence of humanity," and that institutions can be created which respect and support differences while working together in a common interest.
During the question-and-answer period that followed, Hume said the Good Friday agreement addresses the controversy over disarmament of the Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary organizations. He noted that an international commission had been established to help Northern Ireland parties deal with the issue. In addition, Hume pointed out that once the new Northern Ireland administration is in place, "every member must take the pledge to use peaceful and democratic methods."
Prof. John Michalczyk (Fine Arts) - producer of film documentaries on the Northern Irish conflict - asked Hume if the release of political prisoners could pose a serious threat to peace, since it might inspire bitterness among family and friends of victims of political violence.
"In many ways, we are all victims in this conflict," Hume replied. "The best we can do for the dead is to make a new Northern Ireland as a monument for them and to leave the past behind us."
Hume said initiatives to reform the Northern Ireland police force, such as recruiting more representatives from the Catholic community, also were critical to the peace process.
Touching on Northern Ireland's economic outlook, Hume said he supported Europe's adoption of a single currency. Britain's resistance to following suit could pose problems for Northern Irish businesses, he said, especially those along the border from the Irish Republic.
Hume also praised American contributions to the peace effort. He singled out a handful of politicians who have called for a peaceful resolution to "The Troubles" since the 1970s, including late House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. '36, Sen. Edward Kennedy and President Clinton.
"Their work has been a massive factor in strengthening the peace process," he said.
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