Tuesday 10 December 2019

From the Archives: 'Hume-speak' from Paisley is a fine finale

First published in May 2008

CROSSED SWORDS: Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisley Snr
CROSSED SWORDS: Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisley Snr
All smiles: clockwise from left: Martin McGuinness, Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, Peter Hain and Ian Paisley
Former First Minister Ian Paisley has returned home from hospital following a heart scare

THE spirit of conciliation shown by Bertie Ahern and Ian Paisley on the site of the Battle of the Boyne was inspired by the reconciliation of France and Germany after the Second World War.

Neither the outgoing Taoiseach nor the North's shortly retiring first minister alluded to how the commemoration centre on the famous Boyne battlefield can trace its international inspiration to the Franco-German rapprochement more than 50 years ago.    

But the man who transmitted the model of Franco-German reconciliation to the Banks of the Boyne was not on the platform, though Nobel Peace Laureate, John Hume was present among the dignitaries.

Paisley, however, did acknowledge Hume's influence when he jokingly offered to convert the Derryman to his Ulster Unionist ways. 

Most guests missed the significance of this banter that the Big Man began conducting privately with Hume when they were both first elected to the European Parliament in 1979.

The pair agreed to cooperate in securing regional, social and tourism funds from Europe for the North in spite of their constitutional differences. 

I witnessed the first time that Hume brought Paisley into the members' bar in Strasbourg. When Hume asked Paisley what he would drink, he asked for an orange juice and warned that he would not touch "the Devil's buttermilk."   

Meanwhile, Hume created a language known as 'Hume-speak', which he assembled from his study of how France's Robert Schuman and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer agreed to pool their key war resources of coal and steel under a joint authority.

This Coal and Steel Community, founded in 1952, paved the way for the 27-member European Union.

From his observation of European institutions, Hume constructed new political structures for "an agreed Ireland" which are embodied in the power-sharing Executive and Assembly at Stormont. 

Albert Reynolds and John Major, as well as Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, borrowed from 'Hume-speak' and transplanted them into the power-sharing institutions that underpin the Irish peace process. It was not to be expected that Paisley would admit his conversion to 'Hume-speak' at the Boyne shrine to loyalist ideology. 

Paisley portrayed the rival forces of the Catholic King James II and the Protestant William of Orange as fighting under the banners of Romanism and the Reformation.

But Big Ian unexpectedly pointed out that the Boyne was not just a local struggle, but formed part of a wider European conflict that was to shape the dynastic balance of power on the continent for centuries.

This context, in which William wore the green and Orange was linked to France, dispelled the myth of Orange Unionist supremacy over Green nationalist Fenianism.

In an impassioned plea for the ending of the "killing times", Paisley called for resolution of differences through argument, not armaments. This was the language of Schuman and Adenauer. John Hume could not have put it better.

Big Ian's adoption of 'Hume-speak' made Bertie's visit to the Boyne a symbolically fitting end to his work as peacemaker.


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