The 1998 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on October 16, 1998 to John Hume and David Trimble, leaders of the largest Roman Catholic and Protestant political parties in Northern Ireland, for their efforts to bring peace to the long-polarized British province. The two men share the prize money of $960,000.
Hume, 61, the Catholic head of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, is cited by the Nobel Committee in Oslo for having been the “clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland’s political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution.”
Trimble, 54, the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, is honored for having demonstrated “great political courage when, at a critical stage in the process, he advocated solutions which led to the peace agreement.”
The leader of a third prominent party, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is not named as a prize winner. While it does not honor Adams, the committee says it wishes to “emphasize the importance of the positive contributions to the peace process made by other Northern Irish leaders.” Nor are several other figures mentioned as possibilities, including former Senator George Mitchell, who led the talks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, United States President Bill Clinton, and Mo Mowlam, the British Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The accord, signed on April 10 and known as the Good Friday Agreement, gives the 1.7 million residents of Northern Ireland a respite from the sectarian violence that has claimed more than 3,200 lives in the previous 30 years. It also opens the possibility of lasting stability for the first time since the establishment of Northern Ireland with partition from Ireland in 1921.
Forging concessions from fiercely antagonistic populations, the accord seeks to balance the Protestant majority’s wish to remain part of Britain with Catholic desires to strengthen ties to the Republic of Ireland to the south. The committee, seeing in Northern Ireland’s two warring groups a dispute with notable similarities to violent tribal confrontations elsewhere, expresses the hope that the accord will serve “to inspire peaceful solutions to other religious, ethnic and national conflicts around the world.”
Adams, in New York on a fund-raising trip for Sinn Féin, welcomes the Oslo announcement and particularly praises Hume, who is widely seen as having helped persuade the IRA to adopt a cease-fire and having eased Sinn Féin’s entry into the talks. “Indeed, there would be no peace process but for his courage and vision,” Adams says, adding, “No one deserves this accolade more.” He also wishes Trimble well and says the prize imposes on everyone the responsibility to “push ahead through the speedy implementation of the agreement.”
In the unforgiving politics of Northern Ireland, the Unionist dissidents and members of other Protestant parties who do not join in the peace talks attack both Trimble and Hume. Ian Paisley Jr., son of the head of the Democratic Unionist Party, calls the Nobel Committee’s decision a “farce” and says of the winners, “These people have not delivered peace, and they are not peacemakers.”
Trimble says he is “slightly uncomfortable” with the award because so many other people have been involved beside him in reaching the settlement and much remains to be done to put it in place. “We know that while we have the makings of peace, it is not wholly secure yet,” he tells the BBC from Denver, where he is on an 11-city North American tour to spur foreign investment in Ulster. “I hope it does not turn out to be premature.”
Hume receives word of the prize at his home in Londonderry and terms it “an expression of the total endorsement of the work of very many people.” He adds, “This isn’t just an award to David Trimble and myself. It is an award to all the people in Northern Ireland.”
In Washington, D.C., President Clinton says “how very pleased” he is, “personally and as President, that the Nobel Prize Committee has rewarded the courage and the people of Northern Ireland by giving the Nobel Peace Prize to John Hume and to David Trimble.” He adds “a special word of thanks” to George Mitchell, who issues a statement praising Hume and Trimble as “fully deserving of this honor.”
The peace talks began in the summer of 1996. They eventually draw the participation of 8 of the 10 Northern Irish parties, with many of the men around the table convicted murderers and bombers who had emerged from prison with a commitment to peaceful resolution to what for nearly a century have been referred to wearily as “the Troubles.” The paramilitary groups had also made the tactical decision that violence would not secure their goals, a shared conviction that gives these talks a chance for success that past fitful attempts at settlement lacked.
The peace talks move in a desultory manner until Blair takes office in May 1997 and highlights the cause of peace in Northern Ireland as an early commitment. At his and Ahern’s urging, the IRA declares a cease-fire in July, and by September Sinn Féin is permitted to join the talks.
Blair also gives Trimble and Adams unprecedented access to 10 Downing Street, and the Ulster Protestants report that they obtained from Clinton the most sympathetic hearing they ever had from an American President, allaying their longtime suspicions of Washington’s bias in favor of the Catholic minority.
(From: “2 Ulster Peacemakers Win the Nobel Prize,” The New York Times, Warren Hoge, October 17, 1998)