In a week when we are reminded of the fragility of life, most especially in the context of Martin Luther King Jr., it has been comforting to hear words from leaders entrusted with the survival of the still fragile Northern Ireland peace process.
Coinciding with President Clinton’s State of the Union address — a speech in which the president reminded the word of the U.S. commitment to the peace process — the White House released a list of foreign policy initiatives, one of which is a commitment to seeing the peace process through to the point where peace and politics in Northern Ireland are secure enough to float free from the outside hands that largely wrought them.
This is welcome news. The fear in some quarters has been that the United States would pull back from the peace process simply on the basis that there is now an apparent peace. But peace will not survive without the political process and, as we have all seen, the politicians of Northern Ireland are frequently in need of support and counsel when it comes to the tangled process of politics.
One of the North’s more practiced politicians, John Hume, was in the U.S. this week to receive the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award in Atlanta. Hume is under no illusions with regard to the fragility of both peace and process.
"Not all the dangers have passed, he said in his acceptance speech.
"The brutal bombing of Omagh last August reminds us that the tree of peace needs constant nourishment and vigilance, that there are still those who would seek to trample it down.
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" There are those who may see the promised land of peace and yet fear to enter it. Their courage must be fortified. How we reconcile those who demand decommissioning of weapons as the price of entry with those who reject that demand as a legally unwarranted precondition remains the last and perhaps greatest hurdle."
And until that hurdle is left well behind, the U.S. must retain its role. President Clinton would appear to agree.