Belfast Telegraph

Our home is your home: President Bill Clinton and Senator George Mitchell receive Freedom of City of Belfast on Good Friday Agreement anniversary

By Jonathan Bell

Former US President Bill Clinton and Senator George Mitchell have been made Freemen of the City of Belfast in a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, with the Lord Mayor of Belfast telling them "our home is your home".

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

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

The SDLP proposed the conferring of the honour to the two men, however, the Ulster Unionist Party was against the council motion, branding it a "gimmick and stunt".

President Clinton said: “The people of Belfast and Northern Ireland have a special place in my heart, and it remains one of the great privileges of my life that I could be part of their journey toward peace.

An honour I’ll cherish as long as I live. Bill Clinton

“The 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement are a testament to people’s determination to put the past behind them and move into the future together.  Receiving the Freedom of the City—especially alongside Senator George Mitchell—is an honour I’ll cherish as long as I live.

"The honour of the peace, however, belongs to all the people of Northern Ireland, including the women and young people who pushed to end the violence, the courageous leaders who took the risks to forge peace, and all those who have strengthened it since.”

Northern Ireland experience changed my life. George Mitchell

Senator Mitchell said: “It is an honour for me to receive the Freedom of the City of Belfast, especially in the company of President Bill Clinton.  It was he who asked me to come to Northern Ireland as his representative when I retired from the US Senate; the resulting experience changed my life.

"After chairing three separate sets of discussions in Northern Ireland, over a span of five years, I then had the privilege of serving as the Chancellor of Queen’s University for 10 years.  As a result, I have come to know and to greatly admire the people of Northern Ireland.  To receive this honor from them is very moving and gratifying to me.”

We do not underestimate or take for granted the fragile nature or power of peace. Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister

Lord Mayor of Belfast, councillor Nuala McAllister, said the two men had made a "very significant contribution to peacebuilding" at the special ceremony in the Ulster Hall saying their place in history had been assured.

"Today, we reached an important milestone in our history for the city of Belfast and Northern Ireland," she told the audience of invited guests.

"In the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement a generation of young people have grown up in a different world devoid of violence and instead full of hope, opportunity and above all- peace.

"Aged just nine , I was unaware of the symbolic and mammoth task of bringing together such an agreement. However, I heard my parents; neighbours and teachers talk of the word ‘peace'. Whilst not fully understanding the complexities, I understood that word. Peace."

She continued: "For my generation and for the many young people you see in the room this evening, we do not underestimate or take for granted the fragile nature or power of peace. Nevertheless, we do expect that along with it must come aspirations, opportunities and consistent progress. I hear this everyday as Lord Mayor, I hear from people who like me, are proud to call Belfast home.

"And, I am thrilled to be Lord Mayor of Belfast during this anniversary year. It is a privilege to show-case a city that is open, welcoming and inclusive. A Belfast buzzing with tourism, a Belfast brimming with culture, a truly vibrant and confident city.

"Tonight we recognise all the men and women who worked tirelessly to lay the foundations to ensure peace - helping to lead the way for this transformed city. We honour two men, who along with the many other grassroot peacebuilders helped to bring our communities together established the beginning of a path towards a shared future for generations to come. We thank you for your affection towards the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland, and the role you played to secure peace.

"Your place in our history is assured by receiving this honour. President Clinton, Senator Mitchell - our home is your home."

 

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