Nobel Prize: Postbag gave tidal wave of support

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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH THE Irish peace process today enjoys majority support within Northern Ireland, and the evident warm approval of the international community, it was for years a most controversial issue. The idea of dialogue with a republican movement which was still setting off bombs was so hot as to be radioactive.

John Hume persisted in his contacts with Gerry Adams even though the IRA was still planting bombs. The criticism of him was near-universal from political and media sources, with accusations that he had lost his judgement and gone soft on terrorism.

The low point came in October 1993 when a republican bomb at a Shankill Road fish shop killed nine Protestants. With criticism reaching a crescendo, Hume collapsed two weeks later and was taken to hospital in Londonderry. At that point the peace process seemed to have ended. But although most of the political and media world wrote it off, the tide was turned by a powerful groundswell of public support.

This first became evident in Hume's own postbag which he agreed at the time to let The Independent examine. Weighing 14lb and consists of 1,169 letters, notes and other cards, it was probably unprecedented for an Irish MP. It also revealed the depth of the desire for peace in Ireland.

This tidal wave of public opinion helped salvage the flagging peace process, for in effect it gave nationalist leaders their marching orders, forcing them to persist with the process.