Art exhibition hails peacemakers
Largely unsung heroes of Northern Ireland's peace process are to be recognised in a special art exhibition opening at Stormont tomorrow.
Behind-the-scenes negotiators and religious and community leaders who took risks to help end the conflict are among 35 people captured in oil on wood by South Belfast artist Susan Hughes.
She began by painting Redemptorist priest Fr Gerry Reynolds and the project has grown into an alternative who's who of the emergence from violence.
Ms Hughes said: "These people did not get the Nobel Peace Prize, that was the politicians, and yet without all these people in Northern Ireland working away our society would look very different.
"It does not diminish what politicians did, it is just what these people are doing is quieter."
Fr Reynolds, from Clonard Monastery in West Belfast, worked closely with his fellow Redemptorist Fr Alex Reid, who is also among those featuring in the exhibition.
Clonard has been described as the cradle of the peace process because it hosted a groundbreaking 1988 meeting between SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
It was instigated by Fr Reynolds' friend and colleague in Clonard, Fr Alex Reid, who died in November.
The dialogue ended without agreement but secret talks between Mr Hume and Mr Adams resumed in Clonard in 1993 after a request from Fr Reid to the SDLP leader.
This ultimately led to the December 1993 Joint Declaration by Albert Reynolds and John Major, the 1994 ceasefires and the Good Friday Agreement.
Fr Reid also oversaw paramilitary arms decommissioning.
Ms Hughes, 30, said her subjects were very humble.
She said: "They don't want to be in the limelight, that is not their agenda. They want to facilitate peace for others and not be really public about it.
"Part of their work is that they cannot be public about it. The communities that they work in really trust them and trust that they are going to be with them through thick and thin."
She completed the work, 32 pieces featuring 35 people, in three months since Christmas. Among those painted are former Presbyterian moderator the Rev Dr Ken Newell and Rev Dr Ruth Patterson from the same church.
Basil McCrea, leader of NI21, is sponsoring the exhibition after being impressed by some of Ms Hughes' work previously.