I was absolutely delighted that John Hume, former leader of the SDLP was voted Ireland's greatest person of all time. There were five contenders. Over the last five weeks a one hour documentary was shown on RTE Television each week making the case for one of the contenders. The Irish public voted by phone and by text.
The five contenders were
Bono was the only non political figure on the list. I like Bono. I admire him. I have never been a Bono basher (like so many begrudgers) but he clearly should not have been on the list. Bono would have been my number 5.
James Connolly was one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic. He was the military commander of the Dublin rebellion. He was executed for his role in the rising. Connolly was not a typical Irish rebel. He was a Trade Unionist who founded the Irish Labour Party. In 1913 he founded the Irish Citizen Army, a militant organisation who protected striking workers from the Dublin Metropolitan Police. I am not big into the trade unions today. But that's because they get away with murder. But any democratic country obviously must have them. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were no workers rights at all. The Trade Union movement was an extremely noble cause. Connolly led it, and he died for it. The reason I did not vote for him is because I believe his legacy in the rising is sometimes overstated by his followers. The 1916 Rising was organised by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and carried out by the Irish Volunteers and Connolly's Citizen Army. However, Connolly himself did not plan the rising. In fact. he only became aware of it in January 1916 when he was approached by the IRB leadership who convinced him and his ICA to participate in the rebellion. This is why he is 4th in my list.
The former Irish President and UN High commissioner for Human Rights is a remarkable figure. She was the first to aggressively confront the Catholic Church in Ireland for its ultra conservative views. It is forgotten by many in my generation that up until the 1980's in Ireland, women did not have an automatic right to serve on Jury's, nor could they purchase contraception, homosexuality was a criminal act and divorce was not permitted. Mary Robinson led the charge against these archaic ways. As UN high commissioner for Human Rights she worked tirelessly to put human rights at the center of international foreign policy. I don't agree with everything she has said on Israel but frankly, I was outraged by some from the pro Israeli lobby in the United States who attempted to smear her as an anti Semite, just so they could throw a cheap dig at President Obama. For her bravery, and her ability to stand up to a bully, Mary Robinson gets my no 3 vote.
It is truly remarkable what this man fitted into his short life. He fought in the GP0(HQ of the 1916 Rebellion) during the Easter Rising. He was elected MP for Cork in the 1918 general election. Along with the rest of the Sinn Fein MP's he refused to take his seat in West Minster, opting instead for the underground revolutionary parliament in Dublin instead. He became Minister for Finance in that under ground government (January 1919 - December 1921) where he organised its finances with amazing efficiency. He combined his role in the cabinet with his most famous role on the GHQ of the IRA, as it Director of Intelligence. His role in the War of Independence centered mainly on the Intelligence war in Dublin, which was fought against the Political Division (or G division) of the Dublin Metropolitan police operating out of Dublin Castle. His philosophy was simple. They spy on us and they use spies and informers against us, so we are going to do the same back to them. He was highly successful. But the real reason he gets my number 2 is because greatness comes from the tough decisions one has to make. After the truce ending the war with the British Collins led a delegation to London to negotiate a Treaty. He did not succeed in negotiating a republic. He got dominion status instead. This was much more than Home Rule but less that a Republic which most of the IRA were only willing to settle for. This caused a brief but bloody war in which Collins was killed. He had always argued, that dominion status provided the new Free State with the means to democratically become a republic. He was proved right. It was this selfless act, this brave and bold step that was very dangerous politically and personally for him that showed true greatness.
I voted for John Hume. He is a great great man. The 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winner did more for peace in Northern Ireland than any other person. Like Collins, he was a man confronted with exceptionally difficult decisions in his life. But he always had one consistent theme running through his politics. He detested violence in all its forms. Unlike so many who claimed to be opposed to violence he never gave in on this. His greatest ever quote was something similar to this.
I have been campaigning against social injustice all my life. I have been campaigning for civil rights for Catholics since the early 1960's. I continue to campaign against these injustices. But the greatest injustice in Northern Ireland today is the murder of people by paramilitary organisations like the IRA, UVF, UFF and INLA. Other injustices can be righted. People can come out of prisons but people can never come out of their graves. These murders are a far greater injustice than any any form of discrimination that exists in Northern Ireland.
The above quote absolutely nails it.
The culmination of Hume's work was the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. However it concerns me deeply that history is being too kind to those it took the longest to see sense. Ian Paisley of the DUP and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein finally came together in 2007 to lead a power sharing government. Seeing two former enemies sitting together talking and laughing became a source of amusement for the media. At times it almost seems that Hume's role was being edged out. And while there are times when I admire both Paisley and McGuinness, the hard truth is, for most of Ian Paisley's life he was a sectarian pig, and for most of McGuinness's life, he was a murdering butchering bastard. I hope very much that history does not give these two men credit at the expense of the real heroes like John Hume. At times it almost seems that Hume's role is being edged out of history. Not that he would care, I don't think there has ever been anyone less vain in politics than John Hume. But sometime you are given the impression that Paisley, Adams and McGuinness were the principal peace makers in Northern Ireland. That upsets my stomach. For his endless campaigns against the institutional sectarianism of the Northern Irish state, for the Civil Rights movement, for his campaigns against internment without trial and other unjust British policies, for his unwavering unconditional opposition to violence specifically the armed republican struggle, for his 25 year dedication to the peace process, for his endless efforts at reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants (the most noble political goal in Ireland) and for never giving up, I concur that John Hume is Ireland's greatest person of all time.