`The challenge is to grasp and shape history as we bury our past grievances'

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The Independent Online
JOHN HUME and David Trimble, visionary Irish nationalist and pragmatic Ulster Unionist, stood together yesterday on an Oslo stage to receive the world's supreme international honour, as joint recipients of the Nobel peace prize.

The two men, so far apart in politics and so often at odds in the peace process, were brought together by a shared accolade which the Nobel committee plainly hopes will strengthen that process.

Back home in Belfast, their two parties, the SDLP and Ulster Unionists, bickered on about the mundanities of politics - yesterday's issue being a cross-border agriculture committee. But in the Norwegian capital, the ceremony - broadcast live in Northern Ireland - projected an aspiration that the peace process could eventually deliver something glorious.

The chairman of the Nobel committee, Francis Sejersted, indicated in his speech that the panel did not naively assume that all violence had ended. But he declared: "The vicious circle has been broken. The peace process has built up a momentum of its own which makes a return to earlier conditions of terror unlikely, although we must be prepared for minor setbacks as the process continues."

Mr Sejersted, displaying a detailed knowledge of Northern Ireland politics, said of the prize-winners: "More than anyone else, Mr Hume is the architect behind the peace process and the solution chosen in the Good Friday Agreement.

"He has had to swallow sometimes very harsh criticism from within his own ranks as well as from others. He has stood firm and his policy has won through."

Of the Unionist leader he said: "Mr Trimble was a relative newcomer to top-level politics. He was known as an uncompromising Unionist but soon showed that he had other political sides to him, and clearly felt that his situation demanded more flexible attitudes on the part of Unionists.

"Under his leadership enough fear and suspicion was overcome to enable a majority of Unionists to rally behind the Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Sejersted repeated the words of the peace talks chairman, George Mitchell: "Without Mr Hume there would have been no peace process; without Mr Trimble there would have been no agreement."

The politicians had previously held a private meeting with the King and Queen of Norway and attended a parade staged in their honour by 5,000 children.

Although it was a day for emphasising their common goal of the pursuit of peace, the acceptance speeches of the two men vividly illustrated the hugely different mind-sets of nationalism and Unionism. Mr Hume metaphorically reached for the skies; Mr Trimble brought things back to earth.

The SDLP leader referred to "many moments of deep depression and outright horror", but went on to declare: "The challenge now is to grasp and shape history - to show that past grievances and injustices can give way to a new generosity of spirit and action. Bloodshed for political change prevents the only change that truly matters - in the human heart." He spoke of Europe, of vision, of reconciliation, of radical departures, of infinite possibilities.

Mr Trimble, who was on a completely different wavelength, derided "visionary vapours" and delivered a lecture on human and societal frailties. His was a more brooding and pessimistic view,dwelling on dangers and evils rather than reaching for possibilities.

He spoke of dark forces and the dark side of human nature, using the words "dark" or "darker" eight times.

Six times he reminded his audience that human nature was flawed; 14 times he spoke of fascists, terrorists and fanatics.

"Some critics complain that I lack the vision thing," he declared, "but vision in its pure meaning is clear sight. That does not mean I have no dreams - I do - but I try to have them at night." And bringing the Nobel occasion to the level of current political controversy, he went on to stipulate once more that republicans had to decommission arms to demonstrate they had left terrorism and fanaticism behind.

Unless the IRA quickly began to decommission, he said, there would be "dark doubts about whether Sinn Fein are drinking from the clear stream of democracy or are still drinking from the dark stream of fascism - it cannot for ever face both ways".

His words represented an implicit challenge to the idea of inclusion which both Mr Hume and Mr Sejersted had commended. Irish republicanism might, he seemed to say, prove to be an evil force which should be excluded rather than brought in to the political system.

Having sketched in this sombre background, he promised to persevere with the Good Friday Agreement, but insisted he would move steadily rather than recklessly: "We will go on all the better if we walk rather than run." This will be viewed as a sign that he intends to continue at a pace which nationalists, and it appears Tony Blair, regard as exasperatingly slow.

The differences between the Hume and Trimble approaches, so starkly exposed, may have caused some in the audience to wonder how the peace process had managed to proceed so far. Next week, the two men will be back in the political trenches in Belfast, going over the familiar difficulties and tackling work that Mr Trimble yesterday described as "grubby and without glamour".

A pre-Christmas breakthrough on the details of new Belfast and cross- border institutions is, for the moment, the limit of most politicians' ambitions. But breakthrough or not, the decommissioning issue will still be there when they reconvene in the new year.

Yesterday was not, however, a day for dwelling on the myriad difficulties ahead. Rather it was one of international acknowledgement of how many obstacles have been successfully surmounted, and of how much has already been achieved against such daunting odds.