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Oral History

John Hume Oral History, Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party President

Copyright 2016 the Miller Center Foundation and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

Young

This is an interview in Dublin with John Hume for the Edward Kennedy Oral History Project. We appreciate very much your giving this time to us. We had no idea when we came here that we’d be coming at a rather historic moment in the evolution of the—toward the settlement of the Irish Question. So that’s gotten us very excited and given even more point to our interview with you and with the others here. Would you like to start out with talking about your first encounter with Edward Kennedy?

Hume

Senator Ted [Edward] Kennedy is one of the greatest public figures outside of Ireland who played a major role in our peace process and in the program for peace and justice in Northern Ireland. I’ll never forget when I first met him. I was just a young elected representative in 1972 and received a phone call; I was so astonished at receiving it that I thought it was somebody conning me. A voice in the phone said, This is Ted Kennedy. I’m going to Europe and I would like to meet you to get fully briefed on how you see the situation on Northern Ireland. I was amazed, but I knew it was him because it was his voice. We met in Bonn, in Germany, where he was going. Of course when we met there, we had a very full discussion on the situation in Northern Ireland, and I fully briefed him on the situation as it existed. 

In those days, of course, what it was was a very serious civil rights problem. I was one of the leaders of the civil rights movement at the time, and it was very serious discrimination in housing, jobs, and in voting rights against the Catholic community of Northern Ireland. Of course, my city was the worst example of that, Derry City. The Unionists were one-third of the population, yet they governed the city by assisting with gerrymandering, which meant that they controlled housing, jobs, and voting rights in the city. We started the civil rights movement there to change all of that. That’s when Ted Kennedy contacted us to give us whatever help he could. 

There’s no doubt about the enormous assistance that he gave to us, because following that meeting, he kept in regular contact with me. That showed me the depth of his commitment, the depth of his interest in our problem. His commitment to helping to solve it was that he always had a full-time staff member who kept fully briefed on the situation in Northern Ireland and who contacted me on a regular basis. The first person was Carey Parker. Then he was succeeded by Nancy Soderberg, who ended up working for Bill Clinton; that shows you the very high level of commitment to helping resolve the problem in Northern Ireland. Of course Ted joined with Tip [Thomas P.] O’Neill, then from New York with Pat [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan and Hugh Carey. They became known as the Four Horsemen; they were great friends of Northern Ireland with the enormous work they did for peace in Northern Ireland. 

I’ll never forget—You see, it’s now taken for granted that the British and Irish governments worked together to solve the Northern Ireland problem, but until then, the British government always refused to talk to the Irish government, saying it’s an integral part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, therefore, it’s none of your business. Similarly, to get pressure put on the British government to do it, we were looking for foreign assistance, for assistance from the United States; Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill and Pat Moynihan and Hugh Carey agreed to support us to get the British and Irish governments to work together. But until then, no President of the United States would make a statement interfering with the internal affairs of Britain.

Young

Yes.

Hume

But finally, on St. Patrick’s Day, 1977—go back and look again and you’ll see—President Jimmy Carter made the first-ever statement on Northern Ireland made by a President. That will go down in history as a very historic statement. He was persuaded to make the statement and the statement was drafted by the Four Horsemen: Ted Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, Pat Moynihan, and Hugh Carey, in consultation with myself. The time has come, Jimmy Carter said, For the British and Irish governments to work together to solve the Northern Ireland problem. If they do so, we will support you economically. Now, the bit that I talked to the Four Horsemen about was that the two governments would work together to solve the problem; they added the sentence, If they do so, we will support you economically.

I was very warmly reminded of that when, a few years later, when the first Anglo-Irish Agreement was agreed, my telephone rang the next day. Tip O’Neill called me. Ted Kennedy called me, John, we keep our promises. We’re setting up the International Fund for Ireland. In other words, now that the two governments are working together, we’re keeping our promises to support them economically. They set up the International Fund for Ireland. Now that fund—I hope eventually real research will be made on it—has already employed, given jobs to, thousands of young people in Northern Ireland and in the border counties of Southern Ireland, the areas that have suffered most from our troubles. So we owe enormous debt of gratitude to Ted Kennedy and the three horsemen who joined him in the Four Horsemen.

Young

You met him for the first time in Bonn?

Hume

Yes. Surprisingly so. I always say surprisingly so that an Irish American of the strength of Ted Kennedy met an Irish man like me and where did we meet? We met in Bonn, in Germany, because he was flying into Europe at the time, you see. I had never been to Germany in my life. I was only a young man. I’d never been to Germany, but we met there and I regard it as a historic meeting in my own life because of the great man I met, but also because of the beginning that it created to real international support for peace and justice on my streets.

Young

Why do you suppose he came to seek your counsel?

Hume

Well, I knew from when I first met him that Ted Kennedy was very strongly conscious of his Irish roots and would never forget his Irish roots. We Irish, as you probably know, are the biggest wandering people in the world. There are five million people who live in Ireland. There are 45 million Irish Americans. Very grateful are we to people like Ted Kennedy who have never forgotten their Irish roots. He didn’t; he felt that since he was a leading Senator in the United States, he had a major role to play or major duty to play in helping us get peace and justice in our streets. He put that right at the top of his agenda. So at the start of the period of our civil rights movement, then when our troubles started to get serious, he made immediate contact with me. I was, at the time, a civil rights leader, and a newly elected, from the new generation, member of Parliament.

Young

OK.

Hume

He met me to be fully briefed on what was my view of the situation and what help he could give. From that day to this, we have remained close friends and in the closest contact. There’s no doubt the enormous work that he has done to bring peace and justice to Ireland. Indeed when he came onto our streets to visit us, the whole city came out to welcome him, because when he was going to speak, there wasn’t a room big enough in the city to hold the audience. So outside the City Hall, the whole city came out to welcome him. It was a very historic day.

Young

Yes. What was your first impression of him, seeing him for the first time? Was he inquisitive? Did he seek guidance? 

Hume

My first impression of meeting Ted Kennedy was affected, of course, by the fame of the Kennedy family and the rest of it.

Young

Yes.

Hume

But what astonished me were his detailed knowledge and his full-scale information about the situation already, before he even met me. That proved to me immediately that he was very seriously interested, because he made clear that he fully understood the problem and wanted to understand it even more, taking the approach to resolving it by discussing it with a public representative like myself from Northern Ireland.

Young

He had earlier made statements suggesting that he was—I think this was before he gave it much study, certainly before he talked with you—suggesting that his position was a unified Ireland and the British should get out.

Hume

Well—

Young

That reflected, did it not, widespread sentiment among the Irish Americans?

Hume

The Irish are the biggest wandering people in the world. The country to which they wandered most was the United States. There are 45 million Irish Americans, but they all took the simplistic point of view during the years, unite Ireland.

Young

Right.

Hume

A united Ireland. But our generation was the first generation to face up to the reality of how you did that, because when you look at the past history of Ireland, you find that a united Ireland means a united piece of earth. Our generation came forward, and I’m talking about myself in particular, saying look, we are already a united piece of earth. We’re already a united island, but it’s the people who have rights, not the territory. It’s the people of Ireland who are divided, not the territory. Therefore, they can never be united by physical force of any description. 

Up until then physical force was seen as patriotism, not only among certain groups in Ireland, but particularly in Irish America, where the IRA [Irish Republican Army] had always gotten very strong support. Our argument was to challenge that traditional approach, because that had never succeeded and never would, that when you have a divided people, what does violence do? It only deepens the division and makes the problem more difficult to resolve. When you’ve a divided people, the only way to unite them is by agreement. I’ll never forget, in my very first election as a very young man, at the age of 32, I was standing against the leader of the Nationalist Party as an independent seeking a mandate to found a new political party called Social Democrat. My poster for the election was Vote for an Agreed Ireland. True Unity. Getting Agreement among the People. 

The real border in Ireland is not a line on a map. It’s in the minds and hearts of people; you can’t get rid of that in a week or a fortnight. You need a healing process. So we have to create the structures in which the people will work together rather than shooting each other, as we have done for centuries. Working together in our common interests: social and economic development of Ireland, North and South. As we do that, as we spill our sweat and not our blood, we will break down the barriers of the past and a new Ireland will evolve. That’s a strategy, but it’s clearly a long-term strategy. It’s a strategy that we launched in those early years. It’s a strategy that Ted Kennedy and his colleagues in the Senate and Congress have given their strongest support. They want to see a truly united Ireland, as I do, which will unite Catholic and Protestant and Dissenter and support of Catholic and Protestant and Dissenter. The only way to bring that about is through a healing process. That healing process means you just don’t support both sides working together politically. You very particularly support them working together economically, encouraging inward investment, et cetera.

The very fact of setting up the International Fund for Ireland, which was done by Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill and Pat Moynihan and Hugh Carey, that is a major factor, given the number of jobs that it already produced and promoting the community working together—a very major part of the healing process in our society.

Knott

Did you find, with the election of President [Ronald] Reagan in 1980, that perhaps the American attitude had changed a bit? Did that complicate things for you?

Hume

Well, no. President Reagan, whom I met, was very conscious of his Irish roots. Where I first met him was at Tip O’Neill’s St. Patrick’s Day Lunch. I remember saying to Tip O’Neill once, Mr. Speaker, why is Washington the only city in America that does nothing on St. Patrick’s Day, given the Irish strength? He said, Good Lord, John, you’re right. Leave it with me. Then I received a phone call from him, John, we’re setting up the Speaker’s lunch in honor of John Hume. I thought he was joking about that, but then I get the invitation in a card and that’s what it said. To my astonishment, I came over to Washington for the Speaker’s first St. Patrick’s Day Lunch and there is President Reagan at the lunch. I assumed he would be sitting beside the Speaker, but no, I was sitting beside the Speaker, then President Reagan and I were sitting beside one another. That’s where I got to know him; it was quite clear from talking personally to him that he was very committed to Ireland and very committed to doing anything that he could to support what happened in Ireland. For that reason, he strongly supported anything that Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy decided about Ireland because there they were united; they may have been divided in the Democratic/Republican divisions, but they were totally united in their Irish roots.

Young

I think he came to that position. I don’t think he started his Presidency with that position.

Hume

No, he didn’t start his Presidency—

Young

He had to be persuaded.

Hume

No, President Reagan didn’t start his Presidency with a position on Ireland, but he developed his position on Ireland in consultation with Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill.

Young

Yes.

Hume

I had a direct meeting with him, and following that first meeting, at lunch, he met me regularly to discuss the Irish—any time I would come to Washington, he would always see me. Of course, I turned that, then, into a very major occasion, where every St. Patrick’s Day we delivered shamrocks to the White House.

Knott

So despite his close friendship with Margaret Thatcher, you felt that you were able to get a message through to him that was… .

Hume

I think his close friendship with Margaret Thatcher was very helpful, because when you look at the statements of the Four Horsemen—of Ted Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and Hugh Carey and Dan Moynihan—encouraging the British and Irish governments to work together, the statement that they got President Carter to make—What was the first major step toward peace and justice in Northern Ireland? The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, agreed by Margaret Thatcher, with the Irish government of the day. So his friendship with Margaret Thatcher would also have meant discussion about the situation in Northern Ireland, because Margaret Thatcher, like very many predecessors, wouldn’t have been fully briefed on Northern Ireland. They just would have taken their civil service’s viewpoint as an integral part of the United Kingdom, full stop. When the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by Margaret Thatcher and Garret FitzGerald, what was the result? Full support from the United States. As Tip O’Neill said to me and Ted Kennedy said to me on the telephone, We keep our promises. We’re setting up the International Fund for Ireland. That fund not only supported them coming together, but created great employment for young people in particular. 

When you look at it that way, that does far more for the healing process than shouting words and slogans, because the more young people start working together under the same roof from both sides of the community, the more you’re breaking down the barriers of the past and the more the real solution is evolving. Because the real solution to a problem like the Irish problem, because we have had a divided people for over 300 years, the real solution is a healing process, not an instant framework, because you can’t heal the divisions among a people, divisions of three centuries. You can’t heal that in a week or a fortnight. You require a healing process. One of the tragedies of our past is that there have been people and leaders seeking immediate solutions to prove that they immediately did it. If you want a real solution, you have to create a healing process, and that will take several generations. 

But, thankfully, I believe that that healing process is now under way. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to our friends in the United States and in particular—when I eventually write, I will be writing this anyway—Senator Ted Kennedy and Speaker Tip O’Neill, two of our greatest-ever friends.

Young

One sometimes thinks, would this history from then until now of American attitudes and involvement have been the same unless you had had one figure present on the scene for the entire period? We’ve had many different American Presidents during that period and each one brings something somewhat different to the table in terms of their thinking about Ireland, but Kennedy and his folks seem to be the constant element with all the memory of what’s gone before to bring to bear on a sitting President, a new President.

Hume

Senator Kennedy has been at the forefront in the United States of changing traditional American thinking, particularly traditional Irish American thinking, about the future of Ireland. He’s done this by totally opposing violence, because violence has no role to play in solving the problem of a divided people, but instead in supporting, socially and economically, the coming together of both sections of the community and of the British and Irish governments. 

Of course, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was a major step in that direction and the very clear statement made by Jimmy Carter, persuaded to do so by the Four Horsemen, particularly Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill. That statement, when the history is written in a century or two about the peace process in Ireland, that statement and that support from our Senators and Congressmen will go down in history as a major factor in finally resolving the centuries-old Irish problem.

Young

Well, I think it’s an Irish accomplishment, not altogether Ted Kennedy being a key figure here. You needed foreign assistance, as you said, and he was there to provide it and have the kind of… .

Hume

Well, of course, when I talk about Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill and Hugh Carey and Dan Moynihan, I’m talking about an Irish commitment as well.

Young

Yes.

Hume

Because we Irish are the biggest wandering people in the world. Now that we’re living through the biggest revolution in the history of the world, a technological, telecommunication, and transport revolution, that world is a much smaller place. I believe we Irish and people of Irish roots all over the world should be reuniting in favor of the offshore island of Europe called Ireland.

Young

Yes, yes.

Hume

That is now happening. Alone we look like a small country. We are emerging now, I think, as one of the most influential countries in the world. One of the ways of doing that is by bringing together people in prominent positions in many countries of Irish roots. The very first major step in that direction, I hope, will go down as the Four Horsemen coming together to finally resolve the 300-year-old Irish problem.

Young

OK. Then after the Four Horsemen, after the declaration, what would be the next that stands out in your mind beyond that period as the next major moment in the evolution of the process? There were setbacks, of course, many times.

Hume

The next major step in the evolution of the process is the full-time working of the institutions that have been agreed in the Good Friday Agreement. In other words, an assembly in Northern Ireland with all sections of our people there. The government of Northern Ireland with all sections of our people represented, and a North/South Council of Ministers with both parts of Ireland there. Once they start working together in their common interests—their common interests are the economic development. That’s where, once again, our Irish American support will be hugely important, not only in helping us to achieve investment by American companies in Northern Ireland, but also in the marketing of the products of our companies, particularly our small companies. Because the more that Catholics, Protestants, and Dissenters work under the one roof together and the more successful they are, the more we will break down the barriers of history and the new Ireland will evolve. As part of that process, Irish America is a key, key part.

Young

Was Ted Kennedy himself helpful in obtaining investment, particular investment?

Hume

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever of the assistance that we received from Ted Kennedy in achieving inward investment in Northern Ireland. I know what I’m talking about, because I was involved in the setting up of a body called Derry Boston Ventures, building special links between my city, which has the worst unemployment in Northern Ireland and suffered the most from discrimination. We set up special links between Derry and Boston to help solve that. What we did, with the assistance of Tip O’Neill, with the assistance of Ted Kennedy, and with the assistance of Ray Flynn, who at the time was the Mayor of Boston, we brought small companies over to Boston to meet the people who would sell the products, normally sell the products, that these companies made. We brought small companies over and it’s quite amazing. They came over to market their products and in a very short space of time, we received $24 million worth of orders in the first year for the products. As you can see, that’s a major part of our healing process. 

In addition to the small industries marketing their products in America, the whole message was Let Irish America buy Ireland, and that appeals a lot to Irish Americans. They’re buying products that are made in Ireland and, of course, investment. Stream International, a major Boston company, came and invested and employs thousands of workers in our streets. We have already attracted other companies from the United States. My city of Derry now is a European headquarters of DuPont. It was the European headquarters of Fruit of the Loom, which has now shifted to the Third World, but also of Seagate, which is now employing 4,000 people in our area, and Stream International. We are the European capital of those major American companies. One of the reasons for that is that in European terms—When you locate now in the city of Derry in Northern Ireland, you’re not just locating there, you’re locating in the biggest single market in the world, the European Union, because there’re no borders in Europe anymore for products.

Young

Yes.

Hume

We are also an Objective 1 region of that Europe, which means that we’re funded heavily from the European Union to help solve our unemployment problem. Any company from the United States that locates in our city can get the highest grants of anywhere in Europe toward start-up costs, toward the cost of their buildings and the cost of the machinery and the training of their workers.

Knott

Could you talk a little bit about your interactions with Jean Kennedy Smith, the Senator’s sister?

Hume

Well, Jean Kennedy Smith, of course, was appointed Ambassador to Ireland at a very crucial historic time. Unlike previous Ambassadors sitting up in Dublin, she crossed the border very often, walked our streets, got fully informed, became well known by our local people, and gave her fullest support and encouragement to her government to support movements to bring about peace and justice in Northern Ireland. Jean Kennedy Smith was very well known in our streets as a totally committed person to peace and justice in our area and as persuading her President and government to give their strongest support to our peace process, to the International Fund for Ireland, and to marketing our products and our inward investment. She became a great friend of all of us. She wasn’t an Ambassador that you normally would see in an embassy. She was an Ambassador who came to the people and was with the people and responded to the people.

Young

The American State Department was not very happy with her. As you can imagine.

Hume

Well, at the time I took the view that Jean Kennedy Smith was a real Ambassador.

Young

Yes.

Hume

She wasn’t just an Ambassador to senior civil servants or senior politicians; she was an Ambassador to the people. Given the historic links between Ireland and America, it was right and proper that any American Ambassador should be fully informed about the terrible situation on the streets of Northern Ireland at the time and doing everything in their power to help resolve it. She was the first Ambassador to take the problem of Northern Ireland seriously. All previous Ambassadors had said that’s a matter for politicians and all they did was sit in their embassy. Jean not only was in her embassy, but she came among the people and met the people and became fully informed and played a major role, and will always be welcomed on our streets.

Donlon

I don’t really mean to interrupt. I have to be in Limerick at 7:00 so I’d better hit the road. I apologize. [Donlon leaves.]

Young

I would like to hear about two more things.

Hume

Right, OK.

Young

About Gerry Adams and the granting of the visa.

Hume

Oh yes.

Young

And Joe Cahill.

Hume

Joe Cahill?

Young

Cahill. Jean was Ambassador at that time.

Hume

That’s right.

Young

Albert Reynolds was a teacher, and that appears to have been quite a breaking point, too, in—

Hume

The granting of a visa to Gerry Adams to go to the United States I know a lot about, because I was heavily involved in it. I knew that at that time, he needed to go to the United States because they’re a very strongly supportive body in the United States, Noraid. People should never forget that some of Irish America was a major part of what I would call the mistakes of Northern Ireland. They were a major part of support for the IRA; Noraid in particular were the central part. For that very reason, given if the IRA were going to declare their cease-fire, they would have to explain in advance to Noraid why they were doing it and get their support. Otherwise, that could lead to Noraid setting up another organization. So for that reason it was very necessary for Gerry Adams to go to the United States and therefore to get a visa to go. I explained to Jean Kennedy Smith and she strongly supported the application for a visa. That’s why it was granted. It was a very important factor not only in creating our cease-fire, but in getting complete support for that in Irish America as well.

Young

And Joe Cahill as well was part of that?

Hume

Joe Cahill was a key part of that as well, yes.

Young

Because he represented what we called in the United States the hard line?

Hume

Joe Cahill would have been one of the people in the United States—I don’t know if he was a member of Noraid or not, but he would be certainly one of the leaders that would have the full support of Noraid and people like that.

Young

Right.

Hume

Therefore, it was very important that he was fully informed and that he fully agreed with the peace process. That was the reason for Gerry Adams’s visit to the United States. Jean Kennedy knew that; she kept in regular contact with me about it as well, as did Ted, her brother, Senator Kennedy of course, who, as I have always said, When history is written, he will go down in the history of Ireland. They really did outstanding work in ensuring the full support of Irish America for our peace process.

Young

President Clinton had to be persuaded to grant those visas. He had a lot of pressure not to do this.

Hume

President Clinton had to be persuaded, but there again, one of his top advisors on his staff on the situation in Northern Ireland had originally been in Ted Kennedy’s staff, Nancy Soderberg. They were in regular contact with me as well and when I went to the United States, I was met by President Clinton to discuss Northern Ireland. It was quite clear that he had a very strong commitment. His own roots in Northern Ireland are very strong, because he was the first President to come and visit Northern Ireland, an incredible occasion. Again, on our streets of Derry, the whole city came out in welcome. 

The very fact that someone internationally as powerful as the President of the United States was supporting our peace process obviously strengthened our process enormously. We’ve a great debt of gratitude to him. He knows very well that there’s enormous gratitude to him; indeed, our university has now set up in the university the Tip O’Neill Chair of Peace Studies and I’m very honored to have been made the professor in that chair. The purpose of it is to bring international figures over to speak about their philosophy of peace in the modern world to an audience, not only the local audience, but the international audience, television-wise. Already I have been lucky; I got Bill Clinton to come over as President and inaugurate it. We’ve had Ted Kennedy there speaking. We’ve had Kofi Annan. We’ve had the President of Europe [Romano Prodi]. We’re bringing international figures. Hillary [Rodham] Clinton has come and spoken as well. We have international figures coming to give their view and their speech and their philosophy on peace, peace in the modern world. 

It’s part of my own theory, you see, that given that we’re living in a smaller world today because of technology, telecommunications, and transport, we’re all closer together. Therefore, we’re in a stronger position to shape that world. For that reason, we should be promoting the philosophy of peace. I know from my experience that areas of conflict, no matter where they are, they’re always about the same thing. Therefore, when you have solution in one area, as we have, the principles of that solution can help resolve in all other areas. Therefore, we should be having a word. 

In fact, what we should have is the biggest country in the world, the United States, uniting with the European Union to set up a body that, instead of sending armies to areas of conflict, should be sending philosophies of peace and reconciliation with a team of people to promote the dialogue that will lead to it. The time has come to learn that there never has been a war in the history of the world in which the vast majority of victims have not been innocent civilians. Therefore, it should never be the way of solving a problem. We should now, in the smaller, modern world, have teams—have a body first of all, an international body for conflict resolution, that sends not soldiers like the United Nations does to separate people, but sends people to promote dialogue and to promote the principles at the heart of conflict resolution.

Young

Well, the history of the Irish problem and the solution toward which it’s moving seems to me to, as I’m supporting what you say here—I think it’s very important that the lesson of what is to be learned from that for the future is a very important model and a very important lesson. Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s the major model for my country at this time.

Hume

I have been saying repeatedly, and I’ve been invited to make speeches in different parts of the world, but I’ve been saying repeatedly that the principles at the heart of the solution of our conflict are principles that will solve conflicts anywhere else.

Young

Yes.

Hume

Because when you’ve studied conflict as I have done, given the seriousness of conflict when you live in an area where there is conflict—Conflict, no matter where it is, is always about the same thing. That sounds a strange remark, but it’s true when you stop and think. Conflict is about difference, whether you’re fighting about your race, your religion, or your nationality. My response to that was difference is an accident of birth. None of us chose to be born in our community and to any religion. Therefore, it’s not something we should fight about; it’s something that we should respect. The same applies to race and the same applies to nationality. So the first principle of peace in any area of conflict is respect for difference. The second principle then is institutions that respect the differences. In other words, we have an assembly elected by a system of proportional voting, not straight voting, proportional voting, which is very democratic and ensures that all sections of the people are fully represented. Then the assembly meets and proportionally elects the government so all sections are in government. When those institutions are in place, all sections of government and assembly start working together in their common interests, the socioeconomic development. Instead of waving flags at one another or guns, they’re working on the socioeconomic development of the living standards of the people. They’re spilling their sweat, not their blood—real patriotism. As they do that, it will break down the barriers of centuries. Just think of applying those principles to any other area in the world where they’re required.

Young

Americans thought, at one point in their history, they had solved this problem. We gave it a motto, E Pluribus Unum.

Hume

I was about to say in reply to you that when you sum up the philosophy that I am talking about, it’s best summed up in the three words that sum up the American Constitution, which I first saw when I went to the grave of Abraham Lincoln. Then I saw it written on the cents, E Pluribus Unum. From Many We Are One. The essence of our unity is respect for our diversity.

Young

Yes, right.

Hume

Now that is the philosophy at the heart of the best example of conflict resolution in the history of the world, which I have learned from European Union. When I first went to Strasbourg in 1979 as a member of the European Parliament, I went for a walk. I crossed the bridge through Strasbourg in France to Kehl in Germany. I stopped in the middle of the bridge and I said, Good Lord, there’s France; there’s Germany. If I had stood on this bridge 30 years ago at the end of the Second World War, the worst half-century in the history of the world, when 50 million human beings had been slaughtered in two world wars—if I had said, Don’t worry, it’s all over now. In 30 years’ time you’ll all be in the United Europe. Good Lord, they would have sent me to a psychiatrist. But it has happened, and it’s the best example in the history of the world of conflict resolution.

When you study the European Union, the three principles at the heart of it are the same three principles at the heart of our problem, and the three principles that are summed up in the American Constitution. What are they? Principle number one, respect for difference, total respect for all identities in Europe. Principle number two, institutions that do that: Council of Ministers, all countries are there; European Commission, all countries are there; European Parliament, all countries are there. And the third principle, the healing process. They work together in their common interest, not on things that divide them, but the socioeconomic development of Europe. They spill their sweat, not their blood. They’ve broken down the barriers of centuries. Those are the three principles at the heart of the Northern Ireland Agreement, but it doesn’t seem to have been picked up in some regions of American politics. It sums up E Pluribus Unum. That sums up the philosophy of European Union. That sums up the philosophy of agreement in Northern Ireland. From Many We Are One. The essence of our unity is respect for our diversity. 

Think of the wisdom of the Founding Fathers of the United States and summing up their wisdom in those three words, because when you look at the United States, is there any more diverse country in the world? When you look at the roots of the American population, where are they? They’re from all over the world, yet they live in peace and harmony. Why? Because number one, the principle of the United States is respect for difference. Race, religion, and nationality are all respected in the United States. Number two, institutions that do that. Every state has full-scale representation. Every state in the United States has two Senators. Every state in the United States has members of Congress. Presidents can only be Presidents for a specific period of time, to be replaced by other Presidents. So respect for diversity is central.

Now, has the time not come for that United States to unite with the European Union in meetings to create a world where the summary of the philosophy of the whole world will be E Pluribus Unum, From Many We Are One? The essence of our unity is respect for our diversity. Just imagine now, the beginning of the new century and the new millennium that Europe and the United States come together and create a world by sending their philosophy of peace and reconciliation to every area of conflict—creating a world where the whole world will accept the model, the words E Pluribus Unum. Imagine creating a new world at the beginning of the new century in which it is true that the essence of our unity, of the whole world, is respect for our diversity. That’s a challenge to leadership in the United States and European Union, but it’s not a very big challenge, because if they provide the resources to do it, it will happen.

Knott

Well, thank you very much.

Young

Thank you.

This is one of the many interviews that comprise the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History. For more information about the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History, including links to all interviews, please click here.

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