New Year Honours: Northern Ireland - Peacemakers get their just rewards

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The Independent Online
KEY PLAYERS in the Northern Ireland peace process received a string of awards in recognition of their role in securing the Good Friday Agreement.

As with the Nobel Peace Prize, presented to Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and SDLP leader John Hume, the New Year honours list is seen as a means of rewarding the participants while maintaining the momentum of the process. As well as recognising big players such as John Major, General John de Chastelain and Senator George Mitchell, the list honours many of the little-known figures who have also played their part.

Quentin Thomas, who is knighted, was political director of the Northern Ireland Office and the government's chief contact with the IRA and Sinn Fein during the Nineties. Mr Thomas met senior republicans in conditions of strict secrecy prior to the IRA's 1994 ceasefire. He later continued this role in a more public fashion, frequently meeting Sinn Fein figures such as Martin McGuinness.

John Holmes, who was until recently the Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary, and was almost Mr Blair's shadow in the crucial last days of the Easter talks, is appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Reginald Empey, a former Unionist Lord Mayor of Belfast, who ws appointed OBE in 1993, becomes a knight. In addition, Adam Ingram and Paul Murphy, both Ministers of State at the Northern Ireland Office, become Privy Counsellors.

It is understood that senior SDLP figures were offered honours but rejected them as part of the party's policy of non-acceptance. SDLP councillors who have been appointed MBE in recent years have been forced to leave the party.

The list also recognises those who coped with the Omagh bomb. John McKinney, the chief executive of Omagh council, and Clive Russell, the leader of the medical emergency team, are appointed OBE. Phillip Marshall, a police sergeant who directed operations at the scene, is appointed MBE.