Ted Smyth


August 5,2020
"Great peacemaker" John Hume remembered by longtime friend Ted Smyth

December 13, 2019
Irish America has a vital role in North’s future and in US-Europe Relations,
The “Bridging the Atlantic” conference

John Hume

John Hume, the driving force behind the peace process in Northern Ireland, has died.

"Great peacemaker"
John Hume remembered
by longtime friend Ted Smyth

Former Irish diplomat Ted Smyth has paid tribute
to his longtime friend John Hume, who Smyth says "kept hope alive."

Aug 05, 2020

Editor's Note: The below was written by former Irish diplomat Ted Smyth, who now serves as the President of the Advisory Board at NYU's Glucksman Ireland House and the chair for the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin.

The world has lost two champions of peace and equality in a matter of weeks, John Lewis and John Hume. Both of these giants of civil rights personified extraordinary political leadership, and in Hume’s case, secured a peaceful settlement in the brutal jungle of communal strife through meticulous navigation, granite-solid patience and the backstage support of both local and distant allies.

Hume’s achievements resonate all-too-memorably in an era marked by limp diplomacy and the impulsive resort to force throughout the globe. As John’s family said this week, “It seems particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: we shall overcome."

John Hume "was radically committed to non-violence even during Ireland’s darkest hours," writes Ted Smyth

Former US president Bill Clinton, who became Hume’s friend, described him as “the Martin Luther King of the Irish conflict,” while the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, said he had “transformed and remodeled politics in Ireland” and praised his “personal bravery and leadership.”

In awarding Hume the Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with Unionist leader David Trimble), the Oslo jurists in 1998 cited his role as a principal architect of the Good Friday Agreement, which defanged the sectarian snakes in Ulster. On an island long riven by political and religious zealotry, Hume was radically committed to non-violence even during Ireland’s darkest hours. And an essential element in this long campaign was his skill in securing the support of three American Presidents, something no Irish leader had ever come close to before.

None of this seemed feasible in 1964, when Hume as a 27-year-old teacher in Derry, Northern Ireland, presciently outlined in The Irish Times the three principles which would underpin the 1998 peace settlement. He called for a rejection of violence, the recognition that uniting the British-ruled North with the Irish Republic was a legitimate goal only if achieved with Unionist consent, and that it was imperative to guarantee equal rights to all citizens of Northern Ireland.

I first met John in 1970 at the Trinity College Dublin’s Hist 200th anniversary when he expanded on his policies to achieve an agreed Ireland by peaceful means. In 1976, before I became Irish Government Press Secretary in the US, I stayed with John and Pat in their Bogside home and we remained steadfast friends ever since.

John Hume at wedding of Ted Smyth to Mary Breasted in New York City, 1980. (Courtesy Ted Smyth)

In the ensuing and often terrible three decades, Hume kept hope alive and courageously faced down the British army and the Ulster police as they attacked and jailed demonstrators. In 1972, thirteen unarmed civil rights marchers were shot dead in Derry by British paratroops in what became infamously known as “Bloody Sunday.” Throughout this carnage, Hume hewed to the creed of non-violence, inspired by his heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. As a founder, and soon leader, of a new Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), he spoke up for peace on being elected to both the British and European parliaments.

All the while, John nurtured ties with prominent Irish Americans, notably House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, together with New York Governor Hugh Carey, soon dubbed “The Four Horsemen.” O’Neill valued his friendship with Hume and began urging successive administrations to hold the British government accountable for reforms in Northern Ireland. Kennedy, who met Hume in 1972, spoke for the quartet: “I believe it’s important to listen to the ones who are risking their lives and are attempting to do it in a non-violent way.”

Over time, this potent Irish American lobby helped persuade Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton to resist the advice of their pro-British State Department and support inclusive peace proposals in Ireland. The history of this fruitful development is well told in the book and documentary by Maurice Fitzpatrick, "John Hume in America," confirming that absent White House support, the Irish peace process would have failed, as have many other peace initiatives in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

For his part, President Carter faced down bruising British disapproval in becoming the first Chief Executive to insist in 1977 that Dublin had a legitimate role in any resolution of Belfast’s unending conflicts – and moreover, that Washington could support such a solution economically. Speaking years later, Carter recalled that it was a rare thing for the United States to take a position against the British, but that he did not consider it an internal affair as his predecessors had done: “I thought it was a challenge to human rights.”

1984: Ted Smyth in right background with the leaders of the New Ireland Forum in 1984,
including John Hume, Garret FitzGerald, Charlie Haughey and Dick Spring.
(Courtesy Ted Smyth)

In 1985, responding to Hume and the Irish government, Speaker O’Neill urged President Reagan to seek Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s approval of the breakthrough Anglo-Irish Agreement giving the Dublin government consultative rights in Belfast. A decade later, President Clinton wisely chose Senator George Mitchell to be the mediator who pressed for an IRA cease-fire, opening the way to the Good Friday Agreement.

In his Nobel Prize lecture, John Hume recalled that he had been strongly inspired by the European visionaries who “decided that difference is not a threat, difference is natural. Difference is the essence of humanity.”

His advice in Norway to his successors should be taken to heart: “I want to see Ireland as an example to men and women everywhere of what can be achieved by living for ideals, rather than fighting for them, and by viewing each and every person as worthy of respect and honor.” John Hume remains the only person to have received the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Martin Luther King Award, and the Nobel Peace Prize.

John Hume Nobel Peace Prize 1998: “Our differences are an …. https://youtu.be/vtU_zmajJHI

John Hume chose to play the long game for three decades. He shunned bombast, avoided the celebrity spotlight, and yet his achievements secure his stature as one of Ireland’s greatest leaders, alongside Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell. John’s best legacy now would be to protect the Good Friday Agreement and accelerate the process of reconciliation on the island of Ireland. His best monument would be to support the John and Pat Hume Foundation for Peaceful Change and Reconciliation.



Irish America has a vital role in North’s future
and in US-Europe Relations

The “Bridging the Atlantic” conference discussed new global trends and threats in transatlantic relations, including Brexit’s impact on the Good Friday Agreement.

December 13, 2019

By Ted Smyth

Pictured at Washington conference left to right, Suzanne Lynch, Irish Times, Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall,
European Union Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis, Congressman Brendan Boyle and Irish Europe Minister, Helen McEntee.
Photo Ted Smyth

    The “Bridging the Atlantic” conference, convened in Washington on December 5, 2019, discussed new global trends and threats in transatlantic relations, including Brexit’s impact on the Good Friday Agreement, the emergence of unprecedented digital battlefields, trade tensions, terrorism, migration, the rising power of China and the potentially reduced role of the United States in the world.

     The conference, held at Riggs Library in Georgetown University, was sponsored by Professor Liam Kennedy of University College Dublin’s Clinton Institute, Professor Katrin Sieg, Georgetown University’s BMW Centre for German and European Studies, Professor Coilin Parsons, Georgetown University’s Global Irish Studies Initiative and by the Embassy of Ireland.

    In her first major visit to Washington, the conference keynote address was delivered by Ireland’s Minister for European Affairs, Helen McEntee. The Minister noted that from the founding of the Irish state 100 years ago, “our state has been global in outlook, conscious that – culturally and politically, as much as geographically – we lie at the point where east and west converge. At the center of transatlantic relations, part of Europe, but inextricably bound to America.”

    McEntee observed that the United States had always been a source of strength to Ireland, “from Tip O’Neill to Richie Neal, Ted Kennedy to Pete King, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan to David Patrick Joyce, the Caucus’s members, Democrat and Republican, helped lay the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement. A compromise which, of course, was brokered by a Senator from New England and which was guaranteed by international law, laid at the United Nations in New York."

    The Irish Minister said the priority now was “first to safeguard, and then to strengthen, the essential partnership between the European Union, in which Ireland has built her home, and the United States, our most important ally and dearest friend across the Atlantic.”

    The speakers who followed expressed a warm welcome for the December 3 US House of Representatives vote which declared unanimously that the House would reject any US-Europe trade agreement that threatened the Good Friday Agreement.

    Rep Brendan Boyle (Pa), the chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland and a sponsor of the resolution, told the conference that the US Congress was totally committed to peace in Ireland.

    Former Member of Congress Bruce Morrison noted that “It’s a gift that important members of Congress care about the people of Northern Ireland. Ireland is the number one issue for Congress when it’s a number one issue, like when peace is threatened by a resumption of a hard border.”

    The Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall stressed that Irish America remains a vital force in US-Ireland relations and that contrary to some assertions, it is not a wasting asset. “Irish Americans around the country have displayed an immense interest in preventing Brexit from destroying peace in Ireland,” he noted.

    In addition to relations based on kith and kin, the contemporary relationship with Irish Americans is underpinned by a two-way US-Ireland trade in goods and services, and by the visit of two million Americans to Ireland every year, including 12,000 American students. Along with Israel, the Ambassador added, Ireland has the most devoted diaspora in the US.

    Amongst the panelists were Dr. Katy Hayward, an authority on Brexit from Queen’s University Belfast; Dr. Kevin Hassett, and Gail Slater, former officials in the Trump White House; Brett Bruen a former Obama White House official; Dr. Orlaigh Quinn, Secretary-General of Ireland’s Department of Business; Dr. Tom Wright of Brooking; Andrew Elliot, Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau in DC; and Dr. Karen Donfried, President of the German Marshall Fund.

    The first panel noted that Northern Ireland, at the center of dramatic Brexit events, is in “a state of time-between-times,” a point at which one paradigm is collapsing and a new one has yet to emerge.

    The recent General Election results confirm this change where for the first time in the history of Northern Ireland unionist MPs are in a minority. More voters also voted for the center ground and stressed they want a return to local government at Stormont.

     It was suggested by one panelist that the United States could help Northern Ireland in three ways:
1. Provide stability to maintain the Good Friday Agreement. The US shares ownership of the Northern Ireland peace process, regarding it as one of its signature successful peace processes in the past 50 years.
2. Help build confidence in both communities and minimize uncertainty. There is a need for more investment in education, innovation, agri-food, high tech, and 21st-century skills.
3. Strengthen the middle ground in Northern Ireland and avoid polarizing initiatives. For example, talk of a border poll needs to be treated with care. Another speaker emphasized the need for balance; if there is something in it for nationalists, there must be something in it for unionists. Once things go wrong for one side, they go wrong for the other side.

    The second panel discussed Transatlantic Trade and Investment and Ireland’s important role in US-EU relations post-Brexit. One speaker noted that transatlantic trade is now 40% of global GDP and that 700 Irish companies invest in the US employing 100,000 people. Ireland is the ninth-largest foreign investor into the USA.

    Another panelist maintained that American government allegations that the EU enjoyed an unfair trade advantage over the US were inaccurate and damaging to US-Europe solidarity. It was noted that 48 out of 50 US states export most of their goods to the EU.

    In terms of digital trade, one American business representative said Ireland is at the center of connectivity between the US and EU, holding one-third of EU data, with nine out of ten top digital companies maintaining European headquarters in Ireland.

    In effect, Ireland is now the API (Application Program Interface) between competing digital systems in the world, raising questions of data privacy and protection.

     Ireland has come from 45th in the global ranking for scientific innovation in 2000 to 12th today. It was noted that one of Ireland’s strengths is its capacity for collaboration, innovating in partnership with government, business, and academia.

     There is an important role for Ireland to play in ensuring security and surveillance safeguards around the deployment of globally competing 5G networks.

    The third panel focused on the Future of Transatlantic Relations post-Brexit.

    Panelists agreed that while the EU is one of the greatest peace processes in the world (a point made by John Hume in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize 21 years ago), Brexit presents one of the most significant challenges to Europe and the US since the end of the Cold War.

    While NATO was founded post World War II to counter the security threat from the Soviet Union, NATO must now, with the EU (22 countries are members of both NATO and the EU), counter threats from China, cyber warfare, terrorism, and migration.

     Regardless of who is in the White House, it was stressed that good US-EU relations are essential. One speaker noted that China is seeking domination through its Belt and Road Initiative and in buying roads, land, and ports.     

    Some speakers felt that US Europe relations must be fundamentally reconstructed, educating the public on both sides of the Atlantic regarding common values and why our mutual interest in democratic government must be protected from hostile dictatorships.    

    In view of the success and relevance of the conference, the organizers are considering the feasibility of organizing a similar conference annually.

Ted Smyth is Chair of the Advisory Board of University College Dublin’s Clinton Institute and President of the Advisory Board of Glucksman Ireland House at NYU.



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