The recent passing of David Trimble and the various tributes to him reminded us of the great contribution and sacrifice he made to bring peace to Northern Ireland. It doesn’t seem like all that long ago since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, yet many of the architects of the fragile peace process are no longer with us.
Trimble, along with Mo Mowlam, John Hume, Albert Reynolds, Seamus Mallon, Martin McGuinness, David Ervine and Fr Alec Reid have since passed on.
I am sure I have left out names who may not have been high profile but who were also pivotal in the process.
You would wonder what toll the stress and sacrifice they made in bringing about peace had on their health and wellbeing.
To younger people today, these names may not mean much. But for my generation and older, they were household names which dominated our TV screens for the best part of a decade back in the 1990s. Those of my vintage will remember how in the 1980s there was little hope of peace on the island. People were convinced there would never be peace.
Of that list of luminaries, Hume was the first to try and create a sense of hope. At a time when nobody gave peace a snowball’s chance of succeeding as daily reports of bombs and mayhem headlined our news bulletins, he never let up.
As we survey the political landscape north and south today, it is worth remembering that the Ulster Unionist Party, of which Trimble was leader, and the SDLP, of which Hume and Mallon were leaders, were the eventual collateral in the piecing together of peace.
Sinn Féin and the DUP were the smaller parties at the time. Their respective growth over the past 20 years owes a lot to the selflessness and vision of the UUP and SDLP.
Hume and Trimble knew there would be no peace unless the hierarchy of both those parties could be brought to the same table.
When you think about the selflessness of both these men, at least there is the Nobel Peace Prize to remember their legacy.
One wonders if the candidates to become the next British prime minister have any sense of this at all.
Certainly, Brexit did nothing to respect the fragility of the peace process which, at times, can still appear to be very fragile. If their great hero Boris Johnson’s attitude is anything to go by, they’ll besmirch all of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement.
There have been occasions again this summer where culture and sport in the north have played out along sectarian lines. We think we have moved on but, in parts, it’s clear many have not. Through songs and culture and names and flags, people continue to feel this is the best way of displaying their identity.
When you think of the personal sacrifices which David Trimble and John Hume made to try and bring this narrow mindset of hate and division to an end, and no doubt effects on their health, it is truly maddening that this undercurrent of suspicion and paranoia still exists around Stormont.
This in turn manifests itself on the ground in the language of division, songs of hate and politicising of sport and culture.
If only the political will and vision of all those who brought about peace in the late 1990s could be rechanneled now when it is needed more than at any time in between. CL
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