The author of any Irish reconciliation

April 27, 1996|By DANIEL BERGER

I FIRST interviewed John Hume over a quarter-century ago, as he lay down for the night outside 10 Downing Street to protest British policy on Northern Ireland.

He was a Northern Ireland legislator and civil-rights leader. His cause then was justice for the minority, not ending British rule. Yet his detractors assured me he was as Green underneath as Nationalist rivals he supplanted, which proved accurate.

John Hume has long led the Social Democratic and Labor Party '' which wins the most votes from the Roman Catholic and Nationalist minority people of Northern Ireland. He is their principal spokesman in the British and European parliaments.

The 1984 biography, ''John Hume, Statesman of the Troubles,'' by the Belfast journalist Barry White, established him on a pedestal. Since then, virtually everything positive that has happened has been his idea.

Mr. Hume is, at bottom, a great manipulator, working through others. He could never have persuaded British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but convinced Irish Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald, who did.

He was the guide to the ''four horsemen'' of Irish-American politics. He is the true ghost writer of the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985 and the 1993 Downing Street Declaration, on which present initiatives and all hopes rest.

And he took on Gerry Adams, who had converted the Provisional Sinn Fein and IRA from Republic-based to Northern Ireland leadership, and from non-ideological to leftist-revolutionary rhetoric. Out of this came the 1994 IRA cease-fire and Mr. Adams' conversion to political method.

Now John Hume has produced a slim book, ''A New Ireland: Policies, Peace and Reconciliation,'' published by Roberts Rinehart ($21.95), forward-looking and written largely for Americans.

Sketchily autobiographical, it elucidates his present thinking. And it answers the question, frequently posed in recent years, whether John Hume is among those Northern Ireland politicians grown stale in careers dependent on unending Troubles. (His name has dropped out of American newspapers misguidedly hanging on Mr. Adams' every word.)

Mr. Hume is succinct and quietly passionate: ''The Provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army believed Irish unity would be secured by waging war against a British establishment which clearly has no fundamental opposition to unity, while they ignored those who most adamantly resist the imposition of unity, the 900,000 Protestant majority.''

He denounces the British guarantee against handing Northern Ireland over to Ireland against the wishes of its majority, but quickly brandishes his own version, a proposal for a ''dual referendum.''

The challenge is ''to persuade one another that neither side wants victory, but each wants an agreement which respects our different heritages and identities, which is the only basis for stability in any society.''

Key role to come

John Hume is no longer the only thinking kid on the block. The Unionists responded to the challenges of Hume-conceived initiatives by ditching their ossified leadership in favor of a nimble, and arrogantly confident David Trimble, who bleeds Orange where Mr. Hume bleeds Green.

The all-party conference on the way ahead, which Britain will convene June 10, was Mr. Hume's idea. But the May 30 election for its members was Mr. Trimble's.

Is John Hume up to the challenge of his own success? It's an important question, because if an agreement is to be reached, he must reach it. If Mr. Trimble is to be persuaded, he must do it.

''A New Ireland,'' is reassuring. John Hume is not burned out but focused and ready. That's the message between its lines.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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