Leading figures behind the Good Friday Agreement will gather in Belfast today to mark its 20th anniversary.
Former US President Bill Clinton and Senator George Mitchell will be conferred the Freedom of Belfast on Tuesday for their work in securing peace in Northern Ireland.
On the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, which was signed on April 10, 1998, Clinton and Mitchell are recognized for their involvement, as the leading figures in the Northern Ireland peace talks gather in Belfast to mark the anniversary.
On Monday evening, a special meeting of the Belfast Council voted by 43 to 3 in favor of awarding the freedom of the city on Clinton and Mitchell.
Today we will be making history as we bring @BillClinton, #TonyBlair and the key architects of the #GoodFridayAgreement together for the first time since it was signed. Follow us on Facebook to receive a notification when we go live or click here: https://t.co/RcViJu9jK8 #GFA20 pic.twitter.com/y3lCg7wmEW— Queen's University Belfast 🎓 (@QUBelfast) April 10, 2018
Clinton himself spoke in Belfast on Monday night, delivering a keynote in which he emphasized the importance of compromise. This was seen as a nod toward today’s Northern Ireland political leaders as the state remains without an Executive after more than 14 months.
The Executive in Stormont initially broke down as a result of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and its leader Arlene Foster’s botched handling of a renewable energy scheme scandal.
Talks to restore the power-sharing government again fell apart in February 2018, however, as the DUP and Sinn Féin failed to reach an agreement over an Irish Language Act.
Speaking on Monday, Clinton said that the 20th anniversary should be marked “not for what happened but for what can happen.”
"The Irish peace was born out of weariness of children dying and of lost chances," he said.
"The further you get away from that, the easier it is to take the absence of bad for granted and to live in this purgatory we are in now.
"It is a big mistake."
Former US President @BillClinton & Senator George J Mitchell will receive the Freedom of the City of Belfast later today at the Ulster Hall on 20th anniversary of #goodfridayagreement #Ourhomeisyourhome #gfa20 pic.twitter.com/V2hBabr0Xr— Belfast City Council (@belfastcc) April 10, 2018
Senator Mitchell, who was the US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland appointed by Clinton to oversee the Good Friday Agreement talks, also spoke on Monday night, adding that today’s politicians in Northern Ireland must show the same kind of leadership.
“I don’t think they or anyone else should take for granted the absence of violence,” he said.
“I come from the US where we are plagued with the mass shootings; dozens, hundreds of our citizens including schoolchildren.
“No society can assume that they don’t have to do anything and things will be alright.
“It takes leadership – strong, effective, committed leadership.”
On Tuesday, Clinton and Mitchell will gather with other leading figures, including ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, to mark the anniversary of the landmark deal in Queen's University Belfast.
On April 10, 1998, the Agreement brought an end to 30 years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. The conflict had claimed some 3,000 lives.
Bertie Ahern on #GFA20 and the outstanding issues to solve: “I don’t think they’re bigger than the issues we resolved.”— Gavan Reilly (@gavreilly) April 10, 2018
The deal received overwhelming support in a referendum in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, starting off the re-establishment of devolved power-sharing at Stormont, the establishment of cross-border political bodies with the Republic and the reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
The Agreement included the early release of around 500 paramilitary prisoners as well as paramilitaries destroying their weapons and also allowed for the principle of consent, where Northern Ireland would be allowed to decide to leave the UK if it was shown that the majority of the population wished to do so.