By Sabina Clarke
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and with the global response to the death of Martin McGuinness and his legacy undisputed —now is the time to nominate Martin McGuinness posthumously and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams as the joint recipients of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has a less than stellar record regarding The Troubles and its Peace Prize awardees.
In October 1976 the Nobel Committee awarded the Prize to Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, founders of the Peace People’s movement. The award was tarnished by the two women quarrelling about who would keep the prize money. They also lost credibility with their own people by failing to condemn state violence with the same ardor that they criticized the IRA. These circumstances led to the disintegration of the Peace People movement.
In October 1998 the Nobel Committee –on the heels of the historic April 1998 Good Friday Agreement– again recognized Northern Ireland by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to John Hume, the Social Democratic & Labor Party, SDLP Leader and David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party, UUP Leader for their “efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.”
The Committee reasoned that since there was “one from the Catholic side and one from the Protestant side” —no one would be alienated. This decision disappointed many since it seemed not only simplistic but flawed since it totally excluded Sinn Fein.
In Ireland there were bets on the following combinations: John Hume by himself; John Hume, David Trimble and Gerry Adams; and David Trimble and Gerry Adams—but never just Hume and Trimble.
So, there was great expectation in both Ireland and the U.S. for Adams getting the Nobel Peace Prize. When he did not there was shock abroad and shock in the United States. Ed Moloney, journalist and author and expert on the Troubles has stated that there would have been “no peace process without Gerry Adams.”
I remember well that morning in 1998 anticipating with others that Adams, who was to speak at the Union League in Philadelphia later that day would be included in the Award and that we would be there to cover it. And I recall our disappointment and still hear Adams’ words that echoed thru the packed room –the sincerity of which no one could deny—when he tried to comfort the crowd by saying that he did not care about prizes and that the only prize—the important prize—was peace.
For more than 40 years, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have been inseparable as trusted friends and comrades.
Growing up in Belfast, Adams experienced firsthand –the bias, blatant discrimination and bigotry towards Catholics. He came from a strong republican background.
McGuinness grew up in Derry in a staunchly Catholic family that was not political. He turned to republicanism after witnessing the government’s repression of the nationalist community. And he was second-in-command of the Irish Republican Army, IRA, on Bloody Sunday when British soldiers murdered peaceful protestors marching for Civil Rights. His response was visceral.
At his 1973 conviction he said, “We have fought against the killing of our people. I am a member of Oglaigh na Eireann, (IRA and very, very proud of it.”
As early as 1972, both were recognized by the British and secretly flown to London to participate in what turned out to be abortive talks with then Secretary of Northern Ireland Willie Whitelaw; and by the mid-1980’s they were acknowledged as the key people in the Provisional republican movement.
Sinn Fein’s outreach for peace began in the 1970’s with talks between Gerry Adams and Father Alec Reid, the Redemptorist priest and into the mid 1980’s with Gerry Adams’ outreach to John Hume which resulted in the crafting of the Hume/Adams Joint Document for Peace.
While pursuing the rocky and dangerous road to peace, Sinn Fein adopted the dual strategy of the armalite and the ballot box—but an end to violence was always the goal. As revolutionaries turned politicians, they were vilified by former comrades who called them traitors for having compromised and they risked being assassinated while they argued that compromise through democratic means was the only way forward.
McGuinness appeared to be always content to stand in Adams’ shadow. However, the worldwide response to his passing has changed that. His legacy now stands firmly with Adams—both recognized as world leaders who helped end decades of murders and violence that took more than 3,200 lives.
Through their joint commitment to a peaceful solution, what was once considered an intractable conflict has become a template for peace and reconciliation around the world.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness risked their lives and their careers for peace.