An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind

From a speech by John Hume, the leader of the SDLP, to the Catholic Institute for International Relations, in Islington, north London

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Well, our quarrel in the Northern part of Ireland or in Ireland has been one of the oldest around the world because we have had it for several centuries, going right back to the 17th century and onwards. But I think the last 30 years have been particularly bad. What Martin Luther King called the old doctrine of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. And, as I say, it is easy enough to talk about the need for agreement - getting it isn't quite so easy, however.

Well, our quarrel in the Northern part of Ireland or in Ireland has been one of the oldest around the world because we have had it for several centuries, going right back to the 17th century and onwards. But I think the last 30 years have been particularly bad. What Martin Luther King called the old doctrine of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. And, as I say, it is easy enough to talk about the need for agreement - getting it isn't quite so easy, however.

I was inspired by my experience in Europe. I was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 and I went to Strasbourg. I always tell this story: I went for a walk across the bridge from Strasbourg in France to Kehl in Germany. And I stopped in the middle of the bridge. And I said: "Imagine if I had stood at this bridge 30 years ago in 1949, at the end of the Second World War with 25 million people dead." And if I had said "It's all over, and in a few years time we'll have a united Europe. France will still be French and Germany will still be German, and there would be no victory for anybody," they would have sent me to a psychiatrist. But it happened.

And when you consider the first half of the century that we have just left, it was the worst in the history of the world in terms of conflict. Two World Wars, and the slaughter of millions of people. Yet in the second half of that century we have come together. Therefore it is the duty of everyone who is concerned about conflict, no matter where it is, to study how we in Europe did it. Because the European Union is the greatest example in the history of the world of conflict resolution. And, of course, that is what I did - I studied it.

And if you now look at the principles that go to the heart of of the European Union, you will find those same principles at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement in Belfast. And you will find they are the principles that apply to any area of conflict. The first principle is respect for difference. All conflict is about difference, and fear of difference.

The second principle in Europe was institutions that respected those differences. The Council of Ministers - all countries had a minister - the European Commission, which is the civil service of Europe, and in that commission representatives of all countries are there, too. And look at the European Parliament, which, as you know, has representatives from all member countries.

And then the third principle, which is the most important principle, was working together in their common interests. Leaving the past behind and working together, spilling their sweat and not their blood - together. Because you don't get rid of the divisions and prejudices of centuries in a week or a fortnight. It requires what I have called a healing process. And that healing process is provided by representatives of the people working together, on common ground.

Now have a look at our Agreement in Northern Ireland. Number one, respect for difference. There is to be no victory for either side, the identities of both sections of our people are fully respected and fully protected in the Agreement. The second principle of that Agreement is institutions that respect difference. An Assembly elected by a system of voting, proportional representation, that ensures that all sections of our people are represented in that Assembly.

And the Assembly then elects a government, by proportional representation, so that all sections of our people are also represented in that government. And then we come to the third and most important principle again - the representatives of all sections of our people working together in our common interests.

It the duty of every person who regards themselves as a democrat, to implement the will of the people. And of course if they try to bring this down and they are overthrowing the will of the people, then they are leaving themselves completely weak.

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