A new film about former SDLP leader John Hume corrects “quite a lot of revisionism” which sees Sinn Fein pitching themselves as the peacemakers of the Troubles, an MLA has said.
‘In The Name of Peace: John Hume in America’ is directed by Maurice Fitzgerald and narrated by Liam Neeson and had its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh on Thursday, July 13.
The former SDLP leader was jointly awarded the 1998 Nobel Peace Laureate with former UUP leader David Trimble, who also features significantly in the film.
SDLP MLA Claire Hanna, who took part in a panel discussion after the premier, said the film includes wide-ranging interviews with Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Tony Blair and John Major.
Ms Hanna said that John Hume should be given full credit for his contribution to peace but that others are now claiming credit.
Asked if she thought the film corrects an historical mistake by younger people who overlook his role, Ms Hanna replied: “Yes”.
A number of people commented on just this point in the panel discussion after the premier, she told BBC Radio Ulster.
“There has been quite a lot of revisionism about what the conflict was about, who the main actors were and who really took the risks and struggled for peace... particularly in Sinn Fein, who are now pitching themselves as peacemakers.”
She told the News Letter: “A young person said to me recently that the IRA were fighting for equal gay marriage... So yes it is important that a factual chronological account [the film] is available.”
The MLA’s view is that the Troubles were about partition and how “poorly” Northern Ireland was constructed – “but certainly from the IRA’s perspective it was about ‘Brits Out’ and it ignored the fact that one million of our neighbours are British and are perfectly entitled so to be”.
She added: “I think Sinn Fein have coopted the legacy... of the civil rights movement and given the impression that the IRA was about equality, when by their own voice it was about ‘the Brits Out’.”
In fact the IRA campaign “disrupted the civil rights campaign that John [Hume] was a key figure in” she added.
Paying tribute to Mr Hume, she said: “My main point is that all the big transformative ideas that we are all still using were John Hume’s and that those are still the tentative solutions to a centuries old problem”.
He transformed nationalism from confrontation to cooperation and brought the US and EU in to encourage cooperation, she said.
And he took critical risks by persuading nationalism that it had to operate “within the parameters of Northern Ireland“ even though he knew the SDLP “was never destined to flourish in the system that he created”.
But the revisionism is not just academic; if people are “prepared to be fast and loose with historical facts then that wouldn’t give me confidence about they would use power if they got it” she added.
Her solution is a “genuine framework for truth” to hold London, Dublin, loyalists and republicans all to account.
Former Londonderry MLA Eamonn McCann features in the film, telling how he witnessed a guide giving school children from the Republic of Ireland a tour of the Bogside.
He notes that despite John Hume playing a key role the civil rights movement from the 1960s, he did not feature in the Bogside commentary except as a footnote regarding the Hume-Adams talks which took place from the late 1980s.
Mr McCann told the News Letter: “Sinn Fein and the IRA have now got a narrative in which they say the issue was always about equality and civil rights – but this is taking over John Hume’s terroritory.
“You see it now when it is said of an IRA man: ‘They died so we could have civil rights’. No they did not - the IRA men died, as they saw it, to liberate Ireland.”
Sinn Fein were invited to comment but had not done so at the time of going to press.