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The peace process in Northern Ireland can only survive if militant groups commit themselves to ending violence, Nobel Peace Laureate David Trimble told a packed ARCO forum last night.
"The paramilitary people have an opportunity to come into the democratic process, but only if they leave terrorism behind," Trimble said.
The head of the Ulster Unionist Party and leader of the Northern Irish government, Trimble received the 1998 Nobel Peace prize for his efforts in organizing the Good Friday Agreement, a peace treaty between Irish nationalist and Unionist forces.
"He's reached across the chasm of Protestants and Catholics to seek peace," Dean of the Kennedy School of Government Joseph S. Nye said while introducing Trimble.
Trimble denied that tensions in Northern Ireland were religiously motivated, saying instead that nationalism was at the root of the conflict.
"The essence of the issue is a clash between people with different identities and different allegiances," he said.
Trimble began his address by tracing the history of the Northern Irish struggle, before outlining the reasons he believes Irish militants accepted peace rather than continue with violence.
Trimble blamed the onset of violence in Northern Ireland on the failure of Ulster Unionist leadership to unify the country in the 1960s.
"With a little bit more vigor...we could have completely avoided the troubles of the late 1960s onwards," he said.
Trimble said a combination of factors, from the reluctance of Ireland to support nationalists in Northern Ireland to political changes in Europe after the Cold War, made nationalist Irish forces look for a peaceful solution.
"The Republicans came to the peace talks from a position of weakness," Trimble said.
Trimble credited Irish Catholic leader John Hume, with whom he shared the 1998 Peace prize, with bringing Irish republicans to the bargaining table.
"The change of thinking in terms of nationalism that John Hume brought about were instrumental," Trimble said.
Although each side has recently criticized the other for failing to comply with the terms of the Good Friday agreement, Trimble said he is confident the peace process will eventually succeed, although he did not say how long it would take.
"Sooner or later, this process is going to work," Trimble said. "The one thing I cannot predict is precisely when all the pieces will fall into place."
A spirited questioning period followed Trimble's speech, with most questions focusing on the recent delays in de-armament by militants on both sides.
"I did everything I humanly could to achieve progress. We need to see other people deliver their side of the bargain too." Trimble said, answering a questioner's allegation that he has impeded the implementation of the peace agreement.
"That's not enough," an audience member responded.
Other audience members criticized Trimble for his continued membership in the Orange Order, an Irish Protestant organization alleged to be heavily anti-Catholic.
Audience member Tom A. Oakley said that although Trimble defended himself well while answering questions, he gave a partisan interpretation of the peace process.
"I think he was selective in his facts," Oakley said.
Oakley said he was most surprised at Trimble's admission that he barely spoke to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams during the peace negotiations.
"I honestly thought the peace process involved a lot more talking than that," Oakley said.
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