Co-op movement pays tribute to John Hume

The Northern Irish peacemaker had a background in co-operative values from his work with credit unions

The Irish co-op movement has paid tribute to John Hume, the former Northern Irish SDLP leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the peace process.

Mr Hume, who died yesterday aged 83, shared the honour with his Ulster Unionist counterpart David Trimble for their work on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Awarding the prize, the Nobel committee wrote: “John Hume has throughout been the clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland’s political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution. The foundations of the peace agreement … reflect principles which he has stood for.”

Mr Hume’s career included work in the credit union movement; in 1960 he helped to found the Derry Credit Union and he would go on to serve as president of the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU).

Mr Hume and his colleagues “witnessed the disappointment and frustration experienced by those who could not access traditional bank loans because they did not have collateral, and the devastating long-term financial impact created by unscrupulous money lenders,” says Derry Credit Union on its website.

“As young men and women with growing families and growing financial needs themselves, they believed the credit union could be a source of fair and reasonable credit for the ordinary man and woman. As a result of their courageous decision on 16th October 1960 to pool their combined savings of eight pounds ten shillings and assume the risk of establishing the first credit union in Northern Ireland and the third on the island of Ireland, the fortunes and futures of generations in our community changed for the better.”

Paying tribute the ILCU said: “John was one of the driving forces for the establishment of the credit union movement in Ireland and was a founding member of Derry Credit Union in 1960, Northern Ireland’s first credit union.

“In 1964 John Hume became the youngest ever president of the ILCU aged 27, and served in this position until 1968. He remained involved in the credit union movement throughout his life despite the life-changing peacemaking work he was involved in.

“In 2001, John was made a life director of the ILCU, only the second time this honour was bestowed, the other life director being Nora Herlihy, one of the founders of the ILCU,” said the ILCU.

“John Hume’s sense of social justice, compassion for ordinary people, and his belief in the strength of the cooperative movement was, and is, an inspiration to everyone involved in the credit union movement on the island of Ireland today.

“He will be sadly missed by all who knew him but his legacy will endure through the peace he created on this island and the credit union movement he helped build. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Co-op Party NI chair Tony McMullan also paid tribute.

“This is an incredibly sad day when one of the giants of Northern Ireland politics has passed on,” he said. “John Hume started his community engagement through the credit union movement, a great co-operative enterprise.

“He based his politics on a number of key principles: total opposition to political violence, the need for full civil rights in voting, housing, economic and social rights, and the need for the various political allegiances in Northern Ireland to be fully respected. All of these are shared by our Party.”

Mr McMullan added: “Now in relative peace, it would be easy to take peace for granted but to those who lived through the horrific violence and bitter sectarianism, we recognise that there needed to be a civil rights movement and laterally a peace strategy.

“Those were led by John Hume and others sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances. He showed enormous bravery and determination to make things better for others. Northern Ireland owes him a great deal.

“We extend our very sincere condolences to John Hume’s wife Pat, his wider family circle, the SDLP family, and the people of his beloved Derry.”