By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — John Hume and David Trimble are the third Irish winners of the Nobel Peace prize and they join a roll of honor that includes some of the most celebrated peacemakers and civil rights activists of the century, such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa.
The first Irish peace laureate was Sean MacBride, the former IRA chief of staff, politician and lawyer, who was awarded the prize in 1974. He shared it with the Japanese prime minister Eisaku Sato for his anti-nuclear policies.
MacBride, who died in 1988, was chairman of Amnesty International, president of the Geneva-based International Peace Bureau, and UN commissioner for Namibia.
The prize went to the North in 1976 when Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, the founders of the Peace People, were the recipients. Their people-power crusade for peace was set up after the death of three children — Corrigan was their aunt — who were hit by an IRA man’s runaway car in Belfast.
The horrified reaction to the tragedy resulted in tens of thousands of people attending rallies demanding an end to violence.
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The Norwegian Nobel committee hopes to encourage both peace and the peacemakers with its awards, but it has not always work that way and sometimes its choice of laureate has caused controversy.
After the Camp David accord, the 1978 prize went to Isr’li and Egyptian leaders Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. But despite the peace between their countries, the wider Middle East settlement that had been hoped for did not develop.
In 1994, the prize was divided equally among Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, the Isr’li prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the foreign minister, Shimon Peres, for a subsequent peace initiative, but an overall settlement and reconciliation in the area are still to be achieved.
The award to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973 was criticized because he had been involved in the secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam conflict. His Vietnamese opposite number, Le Duc Tho, declined to share the prize.
In other cases, the awarding of the prize has undoubtedly helped recipients by providing an opportunity for international approval of their cause — though it has not necessarily helped them achieve their goal.
The Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won in 1991, the Tibetan Dalai Lama was honored in 1989, and in 1996 and the prize was shared by Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta for their work for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in East Timor.
Some of the awards were made by the committee to recognize a lifetime of good works.
There included laureates like Mother Teresa in 1979 for her devotion to the poor of India, Andrei Sakharov, the Russian human rights campaigner, in 1975, and Albert Schweitzer, the French doctor and missionary, in 1953.