Belfast Telegraph

Good Friday Agreement at 20: Council votes to confer Freedom of Belfast honour to Bill Clinton and George Mitchell

By Jonathan Bell

Former US president Bill Clinton and Senator George Mitchell have been formally awarded the Freedom of the City of Belfast at a special meeting of the council on Monday evening.

The two were instrumental in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement which this week marks its 20th anniversary.

George Mitchell was President Clinton's US special envoy to Northern Ireland who chaired the negotiations for the 1998 Agreement.

Councillor Tim Attwood, who proposed the motion, who was part of the SDLP team during the negotiations. He described the agreement as a "new dawn for politics right across Ireland" in the council chamber on Monday evening.

"There was long hours and difficult arrangements made by everyone," he said.

He listed many of those who helped bring the agreement about, singling out Senator Mitchell and President Clinton "who was a champion of the peace process long before he was president".

"And he has been an unstinting friend then and ever since," he added.

Alliance councillor Michael Long said the "fantastic honour" was a tribute to both men's dedication to peace in Northern Ireland saying how they recognised the agreement was not the end of the road and hoped Mr Clinton would make that point over the current political impasse.

The Ulster Unionist grouping did not attend the meeting. They had said the honours went against normal council procedure branding it a "gimmick and stunt".

Independent councillor Jolene Bunting described awarding the honour to Mr Clinton, given the "scandals hanging over the family and the long history of sexual allegations against him," as a "disgrace," saying she had no issue with the honour being given to Senator Mitchell.

People Before Profit's Matthew Collins said Mr Clinton's eight year-presidency was defined by "increasing military intervention in foreign policy" and to hold him the former president up as a man of peace was a "nonsense".

PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson said the blueprint of the Good Friday Agreement was not followed by the local political parties emphasising how an Assembly should be re-established.

Responding to those who said there were plenty who should be honoured, he added: "Lots will not be remembered and lots won't get the credit but that is the way history works."

In a vote 43 members voted for the motion with three against.

Ahead of Monday's meeting, Lord Mayor of Belfast, councillor Nuala McAllister, said: “The contribution made by both president Bill Clinton and senator George J Mitchell to our peace process cannot be underestimated. Both have earned their place in our history as peacemakers, and both can be very proud of what they helped us to achieve.”

President Clinton and Senator Mitchell are the 83rd and 84th recipients of the Freedom of the City of Belfast. They follow in the footsteps of, most recently, Sir Kenneth Branagh,  and Michael Longley, Van Morrison and Dame Mary Peters.

The title will be officially conferred to the two men on Tuesday.

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