First off, at the request of my wife, I deleted the post I wrote on Monday. She thought it contained too many personal references, including an anecdote that we have enjoyed for nearly forty years. I see her point.
So last night, my wife lit the candle.
The funeral was dignified. We watched in on RTE. The family, our President Michael D Higgins. John Hume’s old warhorse colleagues like Austin Currie, (the last survivor of the eight politicians who formed SDLP in August 1970), Joe Hendron, Alasdair McDonnell and Brid Rodgers. The Derry SDLP people like the Durkans and the new leadership like Colum Eastwood and Nichola Mallon and the southerners like Micheal Martin and Simon Coveney. And of course, Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill and even Naomi Long.
I really dont “get” how a funeral…..like Seamus Mallon six months ago can be an occasion for those outside family, friends and in the cases of John and Seamus, political supporters.
Some might see it as a sign of progress in Norn Iron that we are now at some level of sophistication where old political rivals and enemies can attend a funeral service. I have mixed feelings.
Surely all of us have friends across the tribal divide. I have Protestant friends and nearly all have unionist feelings. I expect they will be at my funeral. But their unionism is incidental. They have not tried …overtly…to take something from me. Nor have I tried to …overtly take something from them.
Is it really a matter of respect that the Boris Johnson’s Tory Secretary of State for Norn Iron should occupy a socially distant seat in St Eugene’s Cathedral? Or Arlene Foster of DUP. Or Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin? Or Naomi Long of Alliance?
John Hume WAS the SDLP. It is hypocritical to show respect for John Hume while disrespecting his successors.
The bottom line is that if these folks nod their heads and say that John Hume was right, then they have to acknowledge that their previous leaders …O’Neill, Chichester Clark, Faulkner, West, Molyneaux, Trimble, Paisley, Robinson, Adams, McGuinness, Napier, Cushnahan, Neeson, Ford and the rest were wrong.
It is too easy to say that they have all come to accept the landscape that Hume created. And it is fair to say that the post-Hume leadership of SDLP has not been stellar.
Likewise the journos earning a fee for appearing on camera on the radio to discuss the “John Hume I knew” and answer “what do you think his legacy will be?” ….for some journos it will be a nice little earner. But again the question has to be “if you are snging his praises now, then why did you not do it forty, thirty or twenty years ago?”
And I suspect the LetsGetAlongerists on my least favourite message board will be in full flow.
Now I want to be careful and measured here. In regarding myself as a decent person, I do not think anyone of another political persuasion is less decent. But I do believe SDLP is a decent political party and looking around the cathedral, it seemed that the SDLP people sitting there were not very different from me…and others like the Secretary of State (I forget his name), Arlene Foster and Naomi Long were simply not people with whom I can identify.
It seems to me that Austin Currie, Joe Hendron and Brid Rodgers (all older than me) were shaped by much the same things. And Mark Durkan (younger than me). And Daniel McCrossan and Colum Eastwood (both younger than my sons)…….all of us cut from the same cloth.
Someone (I cant remember who it was) said that John Hume was influenced by Catholic social teaching. Now I would broaden that a little and say “Catholic and post-Catholic” and “Christian and post Christian” social thinking. Whether it was DOCTOR Joe Hendron attending disadvantaged people in West Belfast or John Hume developing credit unions or Brid Rodgers in Civil Rights movement…there is a pattern. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson……..its a conscience thing.
It is what we used to call in West Belfast “The Old Decency”.
Sometimes I think that it has all gone…but actually it hasnt.