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Friday, October 16, 1998 Published at 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK

The long search for peace

Nobel Peace Prize winners David Trimble and John Hume with British Prime Minister, Tony Blair

This is not the first time the search for peace in Northern Ireland has been recognised by The Nobel Institute. BBC Belfast's Tom Coulter reports:

In 1977, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams were jointly awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace.

A year earlier, the two Belfast women had founded the Peace People Movement - a grass-roots, people driven organisation that saw thousands of ordinary men and women from across the provinces' religious divide take to the streets demanding an end to violence.

[ image: People don't want disappointment with this latest peace initiative]
People don't want disappointment with this latest peace initiative
It was formed after a car being chased by the security forces, veered off the road killing the three young children of Mairead Corrigan's sister.

Peace prizes the people of Northern Ireland have had before - what most don't want is the disappointment of this latest peace initiative running into the sand, as the Peace People Movement did in the late 70s - without a lasting solution to Northern Ireland's political difficulties being found.

The current peace process is still in its infancy

Eleven months ago the head of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, led his party into the all-party talks at Castle Buildings in the Stormont Estate near Belfast.

[ image: Talks Chairman, former American Senator, George Mitchell]
Talks Chairman, former American Senator, George Mitchell
They were welcomed by John Hume's Social and Democratic Labour Party. Other protestants and unionists weren't so happy.

However, eight days later they were sitting around the same table as the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble - talks Chairman, former American Senator, George Mitchell, in charge.

In December of last year, Sinn Fein bridged a political gap stretching back more than seventy years when Gerry Adams took a delegation into the heart of British government - number 10 Downing Street for a meeting with British Premier, Tony Blair.

[ image: A political gap was bridged when Gerry Adams visited 10 Downing Street]
A political gap was bridged when Gerry Adams visited 10 Downing Street
The murder by republicans of loyalist paramilitary leader, Billy Wright, inside the Maze prison near Belfast on the 27th of December put the whole Northern Ireland peace process in jeapordy.

Wright's loyalist colleagues indulged in a series of revenge killings that led to more than a dozen people losing their lives at the hands of sectarian murder gangs.

In spite of the difficulties on the streets, the political process continued. The British and Irish Governments produced their Heads of Agreement document ( the basis for the Belfast agreement in January) just before Sinn Fein were thrown out of the talks because of IRA murders.

[ image: Loyalist paramilitary leader, Billy Wright, murdered inside the Maze prison]
Loyalist paramilitary leader, Billy Wright, murdered inside the Maze prison
They took their seats again in March and a month later, on the 10th of April, the historic Belfast Agreement came into being.

The process, which should see a devolved, power-sharing government sitting again in Belfast, still faces its difficulties - in particular the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. But many observers believe the Belfast agreement is the best chance for 30 years of finding a lasting solution to Northern Ireland's violent past.

Those who played a key role in negotiating the way forward - John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams and Senator George Mitchell, still have much work to do, but if they succeed, their places in history are assured.

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In this section

Key events since the Good Friday Agreement

Splinter groups threaten peace

Punishment beatings: A grip of fear

LVF link to Red Hand terrorists

The long search for peace

Two centuries of tradition

Inside the Orange Order

Continuity IRA - the struggle goes on?

Northern Ireland facts and figures

A fond farewell to Northern Ireland

The Good Friday Agreement in full