Wednesday 16 January 2019

The white washing of the architects behind the Good Friday Agreement

Editorial Comment

Twenty years on from the Good Friday there has been much discussion of the landmark agreement and its legacy in the last week.

The papers and television have been full of the men and women behind the agreement with swathes of coverage devoted to figures like Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern and Bill Clinton.

Whatever your opinion of Ahern, Blair and Clinton - given their tarnished legacies - the trio's role in the eventual success of the northern Irish peace process has to be acknowledged.

It is, as such, entirely understandable that they have featured prominently the 20th anniversary coverage of the historic agreement.

However, the focus on the a handful of key players has led to the unfortunate situation where others who played a vital role in securing peace have been largely ignored or even forgotten.

There are many but two of the most egregious omissions from the bulk of the anniversary coverage have been John Hume and the late Mo Mowlam.

Hume - who was a driving force behind the peace process from its earliest days - and Mowlan - who was instrumental in securing the final deal - were vital to the process and its arguable that the agreement may never have happened without them.

In the early 1980s Mr Hume - who was awarded a joint Nobel Prize with former UUP leader David Trimble for his part in the agreement - helped engineer secret talks between the British Government and Sinn Féin.

These talks greatly helped in preparing the ground for the to the Anglo Irish Agreement.

When that deal failed, in the face of Unionist opposition, Hume continued his efforts and the so called "Hume Adams Process" eventually resulted in the 1994 IRA ceasefire that provided the backdrop to the Good Friday Agreement.

While Hume brought the Republicans to the table it was Mowlam - renowned for her charisma and her plain speaking approach to politics and deal making - who helped persuade the more extreme wings of Unionism to embrace the peace process.

In one audacious gamble - aimed at keeping the faltering process from derailing entirely - Mowlam famously paid a unprecedented and dangerous visit to meet senior Loyalist terrorists - including the notorious Johnny Adair and Michael Stone - in the Maze.

One tale goes that as she worked to get Adair back onside Mowlam - who was battling cancer at the time - whipped off her wig to compare her bald head with Adair's and then sat on the jail floor smoking rollies with the UDA leader.

Sadly John Hume, now 81, is fighting dementia while Mowlam lost her life to cancer, aged only 55, in 2005.

Given that neither are available to discuss their part in the process one can perhaps understand how some journalists and commentators might have forgotten their importance in the face of Blair, Ahern and Clinton's many contributions.

It is an understandable but dreadful omission and one that deserves to be corrected.

Enniscorthy Guardian