19 April 2023

Clinton hails ‘extraordinary’ Good Friday Agreement anniversary conference

19 April 2023

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has described a conference marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement as “extraordinary”.

Addressing the event at Queen’s University in Belfast, Mrs Clinton said she had received messages from people around the world.

Her remarks come ahead of an address by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to close the three-day conference to mark the 1998 peace accord which largely brought an end to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The event has seen political leaders fly in from across the world, including former US president Bill Clinton, ex-prime minister Sir Tony Blair, former Irish premier Bertie Ahern and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.

We are marking an achievement that largely ended three decades of fighting in Northern Ireland

Irish premier Leo Varadkar and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will also address the conference on Wednesday.

Mrs Clinton said: “I want to thank everyone for the last extraordinary days of events.

“I have heard from people from the United States to Singapore, we have heard from the architects of the Good Friday Agreement about the challenges they encountered and the solutions they built.

“We have had a chance to reflect on what has been achieved and to really honour all of the citizens of Northern Ireland who made the peace possible.

“We also recognise the impact of those who often go unrecognised, the many women of Northern Ireland who were crucial to the agreement’s inception and its longevity.”

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, paid tribute to the peace accord for ending conflict in Northern Ireland.

He said it took strength and courage, and people being able to listen to each other and shake hands despite past divisions.

“We are marking an achievement that largely ended three decades of fighting in Northern Ireland, especially when we look at the arc of human history, full of conflicts that continue to divide people leading to intense suffering generation after generation.”

While celebrating the achievement of the 1998 accord, the conference has also seen repeated words of encouragement to restore the Stormont Assembly, which has been collapsed for the last year amid a DUP boycott over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

US envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III, whose remit is focused on stimulating economic growth in Northern Ireland, earlier emphasised the opportunities presented by Northern Ireland’s dual access to the UK and EU markets.

“Two of my primary responsibilities will be trying to get those firms who are already here to expand their footprint and, of course, to make the case to the next set of global partners about why they should come here,” he said.

“Perhaps not surprisingly, many executives are already aware of the case for Northern Ireland.

“They know about the talent and the ease of transit. They know about the potential for market access.

“They also, yes, want clarity and certainty. They want to have a good idea of what might change and how and when that might happen. The sooner they have answers to those questions, the better for a Northern Ireland economy.”

Mr Kennedy added: “There also can be no prosperity without peace, and there can be no peace without prosperity.”

Jayne Brady, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, told the conference the next mission was to ensure the benefits of the peace dividend are felt by everyone in the region.

She said: “The sad fact is that the legacy of our past still clings to us.

“We are struggling to deal with persistent societal problems, low-paid work, low economic productivity and multi-generational poverty.

“Not all our communities have experienced the benefits of peace and even after 25 years of peacebuilding and investment our job is not yet done.”

The final day of the Belfast conference will see Mr Sunak vow to “give everything” to deliver the vision of sustained economic growth and tackle the problems of a divided society in Northern Ireland.

Mr Sunak will then later host a gala dinner, attended by political leaders, international dignitaries and leading charities.

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