THE central figures involved in securing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 have been celebrated at a special three day event in Belfast this week.
Former US President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, now Queen’s University Chancellor, ex-Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern and Senator George Mitchell all gave keynote speeches marking the 25th anniversary of the accord.
A host of dignitaries attended, including former Irish Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, former Secretaries of State and the Assembly’s first Speaker Lord Alderdice.
At the elite proceedings, the university was able to also secure the participation of current Presidential Envoy, Joe Kennedy and EU Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic.
Tanaiste and former Taoiseach, Micheal Martin attended alongside British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, each giving keynote addresses.
An array of Northern Ireland Assembly Members, former Ministers and MPs joined delegates and observers in the university’s Whitla Hall for the series of commemorations.
Amid the huge security operation from the US Secret Service assisted by the PSNI, key themes addressed by elite delegates were to ‘Reflect, Renew and Re-imagine’ the Belfast Agreement.
Former US Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton told the conference that the endurance of the Good Friday Agreement ‘remains a triumph’.
She paid tribute to the ‘brave people of Northern Ireland’ who took risks for peace, and pointed out Northern Ireland as a global example of how former adversaries resolve past differences and work together.
She vowed that the United States will continue to support Northern Ireland as it moves forward.
Former chair of the Good Friday negotiations, Senator George Mitchell, described the Agreement as history making.
“Twenty-five years ago, the people of Northern Ireland and their leaders changed the course of history,” he said.
“The answer is not perfection or permanence, it is now, as it was then, for the future leaders of Northern Ireland to act with courage and with vision as their predecessors did 25 years ago.”
Mitchell, now 89-years-old revealed that he defied medical advice to travel to Belfast from the US, despite receiving treatment for leukemia.
It was his first public engagement in three years.
He joined President and Chancellor Clinton and Secretary of State, Chris Heaton-Harris, as they unveiled a ceremonial bust of the former talks chairman in the university grounds.
Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke about the importance of his personal rapport with British and Irish prime ministers in the lead up to the signing of the Agreement.
He backed Sir Tony Blair’s political philosophy as ‘basically consistent with what I believed’.
Then, Clinton singled out Bertie Ahern for a backhanded compliment, giving rise to audience laughter.
“Bertie had the kind of BS that I always wished I had.
“I wanna be Bertie when I grow up,” he joked.