Former US President Bill Clinton’s role in the Irish peace process is being highlighted this week at a major exhibition at the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen coinciding with the centre’s summer school.
The centre was built a decade ago on the site of the 1987 bombing in the town that
killed 11 people. The bomb exploded near the war memorial, exactly where the centre now stands, in one of the darkest days in the Irish conflict. But, just eight years later, in 1995, President Clinton made a groundbreaking visit to Belfast and three years after that, the landmark Good Friday peace accord that he helped to broker, was signed.
President Clinton’s role in the peace process is captured in a major exhibition of photographs and artifacts, entitled “President Clinton: Making the Peace”, which is being held at the centre at the same time as a summer school from June 8-19. Among those expected to drop in to the centre are EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council.
“There is an enduring relationship between Bill Clinton and Northern Ireland, one that was forged during the darkest days of the early 90s when some thought peace an impossible dream. Throughout his presidency, he gave an inordinate amount of his time to resolving a conflict in a small corner of Europe,” reads an inscription under a picture of the president. The exhibition also shows a number of pictures highlighting Clinton’s historic visit to Belfast in 1995, the first by a sitting US President.
The exhibit will compliment the Clinton Centre’s summer school, which is focusing on the development of future leaders in divided societies who will use their skills to find solutions though entrepreneurial and community-based projects, the director of the centre, Sean Henry, said. “We want to build a network of leaders, especially in conflict zones, and support them as they rebuild and develop a future in their own countries,” he explained.
Summer school participants will focus not on the past, but on the future, drawing inspiration from what has been achieved in Northern Ireland and then going home to promote political and economic solutions in their own countries. Over 20 participants will come from more than half a dozen nations, including Israel, Palestine, Kosovo and Kenya.
This is the second summer school at the centre, which opened in 2002 and is named for President Clinton. “President Clinton and Hillary Clinton have given much to Ireland and these students are drawing on that legacy to help their own countries, in politics, business and other areas,” said Stella O’Leary, a member of the Friends of the Clinton Centre, a US support group. “Like the Clintons did in Ireland, they will make a difference.”
The school is all about making a difference, Sean Henry said. “Drawing on Northern Ireland as a model for economic progress in a post-conflict society, the centre focuses young leaders from around the world on acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to return home and make a concrete, measurable economic or political difference."