Statement Minister Cowen on the announcement by John Hume that he will be stepping-down as leader of the SDLP

I would like to join with Irish people all over the world in paying warm tribute to John Hume as he steps down as leader of the SDLP.

Pictures of the young John Hume, a civil rights campaigner on the streets of his beloved Derry in the late 1960's, are familiar the world over. For those of us old enough to remember, the images of a dark haired young man, righteous in his anger, steadfast in his demand for justice, are seared into our collective memory. Here was a man of vision. A man who gave leadership. A man who, way before his time, insisted on dialogue as the way forward and, even when dialogue faltered, who refused to contemplate any alternative.

John Hume saw us through some of the darkest episodes in our history. When many had cause to despair, he was a constant beacon of hope, a light in the darkness. He gave us courage and he gave us hope.

Throughout his long career, he dedicated himself selflessly to the causes of peace, partnership and unity among Irish people. He challenged certainties and required us all to rethink our most fundamental aspirations. He was prepared to take risks for peace and played a pivotal role in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. His immense contribution was rightly recognised by the international community when, along with David Trimble, John was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.

As John steps down, while there are still difficulties to be overcome, we stand closer than ever before to the achievement of a just and lasting peace on this island and to an historic reconciliation between all of the people that share it. This is John's legacy, his vision will be enduring, and we all owe him a deep debt of gratitude.

I wish John and Pat, who has been at his side every step of the way, every success and happiness in the future. Top

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