By Ray O’Hanlon and Susan Falvella Garraty
U.S. reaction to John Hume’s Nobel Peace Prize was largely but not entirely positive. Sharp questions were raised regarding David Trimble’s half of it. And questions too were posed as to why Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and U.S. peace broker George Mitchell did not get their hands on a slice of it.
President Clinton, who likely was in the running himself, said he was personally pleased by the decision of the Nobel committee in Oslo to split the prize between Hume and Trimble.
But he was quick to single out others for praise during a Rose Garden meeting with the press.
"I believe there are others who deserve credit for their indispensable roles beginning with Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin leader," Clinton said.
Clinton then welcomed the Nobel committee’s more confined selection.
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"For thirty years John Hume has been committed to achieving peace through negotiations…He has been an inspiration to the nationalist community, to all the people in Northern Ireland, and indeed all around the world.
"David Trimble as unionist leader took up the challenge of peace with rare courage negotiating and beginning to implement the Good Friday accord," Clinton said.
Clinton further praised Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, their predecessors and North Secretary Mo Mowlam.
Vice President Al Gore, in turn, praised Clinton for working "overtime" in getting all the parties together. "And the American people know who that person was because we are all proud of the role of bringing peace to Northern Ireland played by our president, Bill Clinton.
Adams himself betrayed little sign of possible personal disappointment. In a statement issued in New York during his week-long U.S. fundraising tour, he "warmly welcomed" the decision to single out two of his political rivals.
"John Hume has played a pivotal role role in the peace process. Indeed there would be no peace process but for his courage and vision. Despite great personal attacks on his integrity and humanity, John never wavered in his commitment to peace. No one deserves this accolade more."
With regard to Trimble, Adams said he wished him well. "The peace prize carries with it enormous responsibility. The focus must be for all of us to push ahead through the speedy implementation of the agreement."
Sen Edward Kennedy described the Nobel committee’s selection as "an excellent choice." Using the title of President John F. Kennedy’s book, Kennedy said that both Hume and Trimble were "profiles in courage for our time."
Some, however, expressed disappointment. AOH National President Thomas Gilligan said that the award to Trimble could "encourage Trimble’s intransigence and divide the Nationalist consensus."
Gilligan compared Trimble’s role in the peace process to that of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo. "He’s a player but hardly a peacemaker," Gilligan argued while adding that it would serve some purpose if the prize encouraged Trimble to promote brotherhood and justice in Northern Ireland.
Gilligan was critical of the committee’s failure to "recognize Gerry Adams and the courage of victims of oppression." And he waxed cool on Hume.
"John Hume’s pacifism is admirable but did not go unrewarded. Hume’s opposition to the MacBride Fair Employment Principles and support for RUC recruitment drives were handsomely paid for by grants steered to party cohorts from U.S. and British funds," Gilligan said.
The Irish American Unity Conference expressed its disappointment that Adams and Mitchell were not honored.
"Frankly, the new British government and the leadership of Tony Blair had more to do with peace than David Trimble," IAUC National President Andy Somers said.
Echoing the AOH’s Gilligan, Somers said that Hume had "played it safe condemning violence for 20 years" and "he an his followers had been amply rewarded with British and American money."
Trimble, Somers added, "has been dragged fighting and kicking through this dialogue."
George Mitchell, in contrast, lavished praise on both winners. Speaking on the PBS show Lehrer Newshour, he said that the peace process would not have been possible without Hume and the Good Friday accord would not have been secured without Trimble.
Praise too came from Rep. Pete King. Hume and Trimble had shown great leadership, King said.
King added that by recognizing the importance of the Irish Peace Process, the Nobel committee was also acknowledging the outstanding efforts of other leaders such as Adams, Blair, Ahern, Clinton and Mitchell.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney praised the Nobel committee for its "wise choice." She also singled out Mitchell for his peace efforts.
Irish National Caucus president Fr. Sean McManus welcomed the joint award stating that it "powerfully validates" the peace process itself.
Newspaper editorials praised Hume and Trimble but also looked beyond the duo.
"The Nobel committee pointedly and wrongly omitted Gerry Adams, perhaps because of his tolerance for terrorism over the years. But he had the courage and vision to turn Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army away from violence, making the peace deal possible," the New York Times stated in an editorial headed "A Nobel for Peace-in-Progress."
The Daily News praised the selection of Hume and Trimble as "wise and good." And while Adams had been "snubbed," the paper hoped that his supporters would take their cue from Adams himself who had expressed no disappointment at being left off the winners list.