Good Friday Agreement: Bill Clinton says getting involved was ‘leap of faith’
It was a week of outstanding knowledge, vision and decency, people who sat at opposite sides of a table 25 years ago now sat together. The attendance of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former US President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton were amongst the line-up of very powerful guests at the Queen’s University event reflecting on the 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement.
The general feeling taken from the Queen’s University event was that it was very rewarding for all guests in attendance. To meet and listen to many “ceasefire babies” as they were calling themselves was outstanding. These young students on campus had great hope for the future as well as those who had been their age when the agreement was signed and told him how much it had meant to them.
Reflecting on the words and speeches: President Clinton still has the magic to certainly capture the mood of the week with many powerful speeches by him, the most notable was paraphrasing our dear pal Seamus Heaney.
President Clinton said “You are no longer walking on air against your better judgement… now you have a hard floor to walk on. For Gods sake, just get up and walk!”
Amongst the leaders was Senator George Mitchell, a man who took the role as chair of the talks process which led to the signing of the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday 1998, which ended the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Now 89 and in ill health Senator Mitchell said: “The next 25 years must deliver for Northern Ireland. Not just peace, but peace and opportunity”.
He went on to say “I hope, pray and believe” the current political crisis will be resolved. ‘‘I think there’s enough goodwill and thoughtfulness and intelligence in the political leaders.”
He also called on Washington, London and Dublin to support the North’s political leaders and said “opportunity and prosperity can come from effective self-governance.’’ In the years ahead, he said “we have to focus on the journey and it isn’t headlines, it isn’t international issues, it’s the daily lives of people and making opportunity available to everyone”.
Another speech which stands out and quickly became the most widely praised and deeply personal speech opened the conference on Monday.
Senator Mitchell stood for 40 minutes and spoke of his hospitalisation with acute leukaemia three years ago but said he felt he had to return with his wife, Heather, to thank the people of Northern Ireland for “your warmth, your hospitality, your generosity”.
The senator said the “real challenge of government” was not “those that make television news stories or headlines in the papers, they’re how do you improve daily lives, how do you give every child a chance to have an opportunity?”
This, he said, was what governance was about, “and so what I’ve tried to do is convey to the leaders the importance of that and an essential element of that is self-governance, the right to govern yourself”.
“Political leaders in Northern Ireland know the problems of Northern Ireland better than anyone in Westminster or Washington or any place else, so we’ve got to help them do the best they can,” he said.
And finally in closing the event, Senator George Mitchell used his words that were so powerful; “the people of Northern Ireland are good people, don’t be so hard on yourselves. Don’t let yourselves be subject to some false standard of perfection. Every society has violence, every society has crime, every society has disagreements and disputes … this is a good place with good people, they don’t want to go back to the past.”
It was a great honour to be invited to be in attendance with many dear friends from times past as we all look forward to a brighter future.