Ahern, Clinton and Blair to reflect on their role as guarantors of Belfast Agreement at major conference

The three-day Queen’s University event, which marks the 25th anniversary of the peace deal, will be hosted by former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton

Former US president Bill Clinton will join former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former British prime minister Tony Blair to reflect on their role as guarantors of the Belfast Agreement at a major conference on Monday..

The three-day Queen’s University Belfast event, which marks the 25th anniversary of the landmark peace deal, will be hosted by former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton – the university’s current chancellor – and is expected to close with addresses by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak.

Global, political, and civic leaders, past and present, are taking part in the conference which aims to reflect on how the agreement was achieved while “also looking forward to resolving outstanding issues over the next 25 years”.

Former US senator George Mitchell, who chaired the negotiations which led to the 1998 peace accord that ended the Troubles, is to give the opening keynote address on Monday morning. The 89-year-old, who is receiving ongoing treatment for leukaemia, defied health problems to travel to Northern Ireland to celebrate the agreement in which he played a central role.


The event comes a week after US president Joe Biden’s visit to Ireland, in which he urged Stormont politicians to restore the power-sharing institutions and spoke of the huge economic benefits of peace, saying it was “only the beginning”.

Other politicians attending the Queen’s conference include Tánaiste Michéal Martin, former Irish president Mary Robinson, European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and Brexit negotiator Maroš Šefčovič.

The US’s new economic envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III – who Mr Biden said he had asked to “supercharge” American investment in the North – will also give a keynote speech on Wednesday.

Organised by Ryan Feeney, acting vice-president of external affairs at Queen’s, panel discussions will include contributions from former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, former Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) leader Dawn Purvis and DUP MP Ian Paisley.

The present Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald, Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie and the Alliance Party leader Naomi Long will also speak.

In what will be his fifth visit to the North since taking office in October, Mr Sunak will pay tribute to the “courage, imagination and perseverance of those who built the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement”.

“It gives me great pleasure to meet with some of the leading architects of peace and to commemorate those who are no longer with us,” he said.

Mr Ahern on Sunday commended Mr Sunak’s attempts to secure a return to devolution through the Windsor Framework agreement, as he said Ireland had experienced “great difficulty” in its dealings with Boris Johnson during the Brexit process.

The North has had no functioning government for more than a year as the DUP refuses to re-enter the Executive as part of its ongoing opposition to post-Brexit trading arrangements. Asked in an interview with Sky News what his message to the current DUP leadership would be, Mr Ahern said past unionist political leaders, such as the late David Trimble and Ian Paisley and also Peter Robinson, had shown a willingness to compromise to make progress. “You do not make much progress in politics if you don’t do that,” Mr Ahern said.

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times