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  •   N. Ireland Negotiators Share Nobel Peace Prize

    By T.R. Reid
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, October 17 1998; Page A01

    John Hume, a Catholic politician who waged a long and often lonely struggle for a peaceful political solution to sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, and David Trimble, a Protestant leader who brought his own community to see the advantages of peace, won the Nobel Peace Prize today for their work toward this year's agreement designed to end three decades of conflict in the British-ruled province.

    Hume, 61, is a chubby, charming extrovert who loves telling stories, while Trimble, who turned 54 Thursday, is a stern, meticulous law professor who tends to shun small talk and get down to business. Hume founded the decades-old Social Democratic and Labor Party, while Trimble more recently took over leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party, the largest Protestant party in the province.

    But the two wily political veterans put aside their many differences during the marathon negotiations in Belfast that concluded last Easter weekend. The result was a compromise that appears to have ended a bitter sectarian struggle that has killed nearly 3,600 people since 1969. "We finally decided," Hume said then, "that agreement for the whole community is more important than victory for one side."

    In giving its prize to one Catholic and one Protestant, the Nobel committee may have been aiming for balance. In fact, though, the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland were never symmetrical or bipolar, and today's announcement ignores some key players in the province's movement toward peace.

    The most conspicuous missing name is that of Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the legal political arm of the outlawed Irish Republican Army. Adams once served prison time for his work with IRA bomb squads, and his embrace of the talks reflected perhaps the greatest shift in philosophy that helped bring the negotiations to fruition.

    In remarks at the White House today, President Clinton seemed to recognize that. After praising the two newly named Nobel laureates, the president added, "I believe there are others, too, who deserve credit . . . beginning with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, without whom there would be no peace."

    Several other political figures played key roles in the Northern Ireland agreement, including Clinton himself, Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Bertie Ahern of Ireland, and former U.S. Senate majority leader George Mitchell, who spent 22 months crisscrossing the Atlantic as the unpaid moderator of the multi-party talks that produced this year's deal.

    Francis Sejerstad, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the five judges recognized that many people contributed to the agreement, but they decided to draw a line at two.

    In its citation, the Nobel committee said that Hume has been "the clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland's political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution," and that Trimble "showed great political courage when, at a critical stage in the process, he advocated solutions which led to the peace agreement."

    The newest Nobel laureates reacted in character today, with Hume ebullient and Trimble reserved.

    "It will strengthen our peace process enormously," Hume said at his party's office in his home town of Londonderry.

    Trimble, who is touring the United States this week to drum up investment in Northern Ireland, learned of the prize during a stop in Denver. He said he was a "bit uncomfortable" about the honor, adding: "I hope very much that this award doesn't turn out to be premature."

    Northern Ireland has had some good days, and some very bad, since the peace agreement was signed April 10.

    The people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland approved the peace plan by huge margins in a May referendum. A new local assembly, with membership representing all political viewpoints, has taken over local government authority in the province and seems to be working well. But there has been a painful backlash against the agreement from extremist groups unhappy with compromise. In August, a fringe Catholic organization exploded a car bomb in Omagh, Northern Ireland, killing 28 people.

    At the moment, however, there seems to be strong public support for the peace process, and the pride that comes with a Nobel Prize is likely to strengthen public opposition to further fighting.

    Hume keeps a copy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech framed on the wall of his summer home. Like his idol, he has spent his adult life fighting for civil rights and for a nonviolent resolution of political disputes.

    In the bitter divisions between pro-British Protestants and pro-Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland, Hume stands out as a man who can talk to either side. He likes to cut the tension of political differences with humor.

    Of all the participants in the peace talks, though, Hume seems the most likely to achieve his own dream. Unlike the nationalists -- those people, mainly Catholic, who want a political merger with the Republic of Ireland -- and unlike the unionists -- those people, mainly Protestant, who want a permanent union with Britain -- Hume insists that his personal goal has nothing to do with political alliances. "I'm not concerned with lines on a map," Hume said. "All I want to do is unite a divided people."

    While Hume has staked out the middle ground, Trimble has spent most of his career as a vigorous advocate of the unionist position.

    Trimble was so adamant in his disapproval of the nationalist side that he refused to say a single word to Adams through years of negotiations -- even when the two men happened into the same elevator.

    This spring, though, Trimble made a daring move toward the center, throwing his considerable clout behind the Good Friday agreement despite bitter denunciations from key figures in his own Ulster Unionist Party. Predictably, he described this portentous shift in the most prosaic terms. "I simply felt we had a document that will preserve the union" with Britain, he said.

    Trimble then stood firm against a backlash from his own camp and went on to lead his party to victory in the May election to choose members of the newly created Northern Ireland Assembly. As leader of the province's largest party, Trimble was chosen first minister, or governor, of Northern Ireland.

    © Copyright 1998 Washington Post Company

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