Hume and Trimble -- Nobel's odd bedfellows Peace Prize: Encouraging Northern Ireland's disarmament and a new, tentative regime.

October 19, 1998

JOHN HUME and David Trimble have given every indication of despising each other. This has not prevented their great cooperation in bringing the Northern Ireland Assembly and executive government to the brink of reality. Reason enough for their joint Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr. Hume, 61, crusaded first for civil rights for Catholics in British Northern Ireland, then for Irish unification by political means, and ultimately for peace and self-government, embracing the legitimacy of both nationalist traditions.

Although remaining in the British and European parliaments, Mr. Hume is turning much of the leadership of the Social Democratic and Labor Party to Seamus Mallon. Mr. Mallon is deputy leader of the embryonic Northern Ireland provincial regime, of which Mr. Trimble is leader.

So the Nobel Prize to Mr. Hume is for his life's achievement. It is well-earned. He was the intellectual designer of all the ideas of Anglo-Irish cooperation on which the present hopeful arrangements are based.

Mr. Trimble, 54, has spent more of the past 30 years being part of the problem than the solution. He was a leader of the intransigent wing of the Ulster Unionist Party, the dominant political voice of the majority Protestants of Northern Ireland. Now he is the leader of the party, hard-challenged by the intransigents.

As party leader since 1995, he went to troublesome lengths to burnish his militant Protestant credentials before using them to reach a deal based on moderation and mutual respect.

As a young politician, he helped to defeat the failed bisectarian government of 1974, of which Mr. Hume was deputy leader. The government Mr. Trimble is preparing to head is a latter-day version of that earlier experiment that deserved to succeed.

So the prize for Mr. Trimble appears intended to encourage and support him in the path he has more recently chosen. In that, it resembles the 1993 award to F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela or the 1994 award to Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

The joint award is for what Mr. Hume has done, and for what Mr. Trimble is undertaking to do, to make their agreement work.

Mr. Hume might have deserved the award alone. Adding Mr. Trimble for balance acknowledges the Protestant majority in the province, which remains of two minds about the Good Friday Accord and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

This will prompt admirers of Gerry Adams, the longtime IRA commander and Sinn Fein party president, to believe he should have shared the award for leading those organizations away from the gun. Coming so soon after violence, with weapons still at the ready, that would have been provocative and harmful.

Until the "decommissioning" of IRA arms is complete, Sinn Fein cannot bask in glory. Yet had Mr. Adams not allowed Mr. Hume to guide him into the process, Mr. Hume and Mr. Trimble would not be winning accolades.

This is the Norwegian Nobel Committee's second attempt to help bring peace to Northern Ireland through honoring those seeking it. The 1976 prize went to Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, the "peace ladies" who founded the Community of Peace People, which very rapidly melted away.

Almost everyone in Northern Ireland is hoping that the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize is not the kiss of death that the 1976 award proved to be.

Pub Date: 10/19/98

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