Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Nelson Mandela dead: How the former South African president influenced Northern Ireland

South African leader held talks with our peace process leaders and was given an honorary doctorate at Queen's

South African President Nelson Mandela, pictured in August 2007 by Daniel Berehulak/PA Wire.
South African President Nelson Mandela, pictured in August 2007 by Daniel Berehulak/PA Wire.
Nelson Mandela receives his Queens University Belfast honorary doctorate from Sir Anthony O'Reilly, then chief executive of Independent News and Media PLC, which owns the Belfast Telegraph.
This file picture taken on July 12, 2008 shows former South African President Nelson Mandela sitting at the Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Soweto, Johannesburg.
In this 1961 file photo, Nelson Mandela, then a 42-year-old, political activist and an able heavyweight boxer and physical culturist, is seen. The son of a minor chieftain, Mandela took his degree in Law at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton, left, and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk.
Springbok captain Francois Pienaar (R) receives the Rugby World Cup from South african President Nelson Mandela at Ellis Park in Johannesburg 24 June 1995.
Former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela chats with Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a meeting at his hotel in central London.
Nelson Mandela, 94, is responding to treatment for a lung infection
South African President Nelson Mandela, pictured in 2008 by Johnny Green/PA Wire
South African President Nelson Mandela, pictured in 2009 during celebrations of the opening of the One&Only Cape Town resort, Sol Kerzner's first hotel in his home country since 1992. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
The ailing anti-apartheid icon Nelson Madela was filmed on April 29, 2013. (AP Photo/SABC TV)
A newspaper seller holds the Sunday Times newspaper with the headline 'It's time to let him go' referring to words spoken by long-time friend of former president Nelson Mandela, Andrew Mlangeni, in Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
A boy kicks a ball behind a statue of former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Groot Drakenstein correctional facility near the town of Franschhoek, South Africa, Sunday, June 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
A stained glass panel inside the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, South Africa depicts former president Nelson Mandela during a church service on June 9, when worshippers were urged to pray for Mandela. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
A worshipper at morning mass at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, Sunday June 9, 2013. Churchgoers were urged to pray for former president Nelson Mandela after he was hospitalized with a recurring lung infection. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
Avia Nossel with a stone bearing a get-well message, held by her father, outside the home of former president Nelson Mandela, in Johannesburg, on Saturday June 8, 2013. The stone was among others placed outside in flower beds from Mandela's previous hospital spells. (AP Photo)
Worshippers praying for former president Nelson Mandela on a hill overlooking Johannesburg, at sunset, Saturday, June 8, 2013.The news Mandela was in a serious condition in hospital prompted an outpouring of concern from admirers of a man who helped to end white racist rule. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
Former South African President Nelson Mandela celebrating his 94th birthday with family in Qunu, South Africa, on July 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam-file)
A flower pot with and stones painted and covered in graffiti wishing former South African President Nelson Mandela prompt recovery were set outside his Johannesburg home Monday, June 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Former South African President Nelson Mandela celebrating his 94th birthday with family in Qunu, South Africa, on July 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam-file)
Press gather outside the hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was hospitalized with a recurring lung infection early Saturday, June 8, 2013. A presidential statement said that Mandela was in a serious but stable condition. (AP Photo)
A photo taken in June 2008 of former South African President Nelson Mandela. By Johnny Green/PA Wire
Nelson Mandela's wife Graca Machel, who cancelled an appearance at a hunger summit as her husband was treated in hospital for a lung infection. Photo by Daniel Berehulak/PA Wire

Nelson Mandela's influence on Northern Ireland began in the eighties, when the student body at Queen's University Belfast named Mandela Hall after him in opposition to apartheid.

But he came to play a much bigger role in his later years, when as a retired president he took a keen interest in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Prior to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Mr Mandela hosted a conference attended by several of Northern Ireland's political leaders.

The intention was to impart the lessons learned in South Africa, as apartheid came to an end, to unionist and nationalist politicians.

In 2000 on a visit to Dublin he called for courageous leadership and bold action to break the deadlock in Northern Ireland's political process.

"I want to encourage all parties in the Northern Ireland peace process to resolve all matters required for the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement," he said in a speech following his conferral with an honorary degree in Trinity College.

He also held private meetings with senior figures from the Ulster Unionists, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein.

In 2008 he became Queens University's Centenary Honorary Graduate.

He received an honorary doctorate for distinction in public service from Sir Anthony O'Reilly, then-chief executive of Independent News and Media PLC, which owns the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Mandela, who could not be in Belfast for the ceremony, recorded a message which was relayed to the audience, saying: "Thank you for the honour bestowed upon us today.

"My grandchildren will be impressed when I can boast I have an honorary doctorate from such an esteemed institution.

"Queen's University Belfast plays a central role in the life of Northern Ireland and is key to its future."

He thanked the student body for naming Mandela Hall after him in the eighties, in opposition to apartheid.

Queen's Chancellor, Senator George Mitchell, described Mandela then as "an inspirational figure and a global statesman whose courage and leadership brought about healing within a nation divided by apartheid."

Sir Anthony O'Reilly said Mr Mandela, a close friend, was "an exceptional human being".

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