Some rewards are best left for heaven. All awards, on the other hand, are a distinctly earthly phenomenon. And there’s no shortage of them about these days, especially if you happen to be a Northern Ireland political leader who signed the Good Friday peace accord. The dotted-line political parties were represented Tuesday night at a Washington Hotel in a ceremony where North peacebroker George Mitchell — deserving recipient of one or two awards himself — presided over a gathering during which this year’s Averell Harriman awards were dished out to eight Northern politicians — and President Clinton. As with the presentation of the Profile in Courage Awards Monday at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, this was an occasion for warm applause, renewed hope and that warm, fuzzy feeling that tends to surround events where the better of human deeds are being recognized.
Three thousand miles from Washington, however, in places like North Belfast, Portadown and Omagh, the warm fuzzy feelings are on hold right now. Even the fast approach of Christmas will do little to soothe the rattled nerves of those who have placed their trust in honored political leaders, some of whom seem to be taking their eyes off the prize, if not the prizes.
Many in the North, Unionists mostly, will pour particular scorn on Gerry Adams, Seamus Mallon and even John Hume, who, if nothing else, can be accused of rubbing people’s ears — unwilling ones in many cases — in a message that has changed little in 30 years of political life. Unionists will look at the likes of Adams and Hume and tell you that they can see straight into a pair of scheming minds.
Many others in the North, nationalists mostly, will be particularly upset this week with David Trimble. They will not be entirely reassured by the fact that Trimble appeared to feel that the situation — rather dire in the opinions of many — was sufficiently calm to warrant a holiday in the U.S. with his family.
If the Trimble vacation is indeed an accurate reflection of where the peace process currently stands, then we should all feel relieved. If, however, it is merely another ploy in what some, not least Sinn Féin, see as a unionist stalling strategy, then we should all cry alarm in unison with that party.
The problem with Trimble is that he can be quite a cool customer when put into the spotlight . Probing the depths of his mind can be a complicated task. One made further difficult by the fact that Trimble, unlike Adams or Hume, is not entirely sure of his leadership position at the present moment. If Trimble’s soothing words do run true, then we can all feel a little warmer, fuzzier. If they are merely tactical, then it is time for action. And for that, Irish Americans will immediately look to a president sorely distracted by the affairs of Capitol Hill. It might take more than a few minutes chat on the sidelines during yet another awards ceremony to straighten the course of the peace process and remove the suspicion, from the minds of many, that one or two of these awards might be, in the case of Mr. Trimble in particular, a tad premature.