Belfast Telegraph

Harri Holkeri: Finnish statesman who played key role in talks that led to Good Friday peace deal

Former Finnish prime minister Harri Holkeri, who died this week, played a leading role in the Northern Ireland peace talks which led ultimately to the Good Friday Agreement. He was aged 74.

He also had a pivotal role in other international trouble-spots, including Kosovo where he led the United Nations civilian administration from 2003-4.

Several years earlier, from 2000-2001, he chaired the United Nations General Assembly.

Born in rural south-western Finland in 1937, he spent his early career as a banker and remained a director of Finland's central bank from 1978-1997.

He also served as a member of the Finnish parliament with the National Coalition Party from 1970 to 1978 and was prime minister from 1987-1991.

His political and diplomatic talents were recognised by the invitation to co-chair the multi-party talks that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He worked together with the former US Senator George Mitchell, who later became Chancellor of Queen's University in Belfast, and the retired Canadian General John de Chastelain, who also played a major role in overseeing the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

Harri Holkeri was widely respected across the political spectrum for his political skill and even-handedness.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams paid tribute to his skill as a chairman, and to his distinguished international career.

Mr Adams added that Mr Holkeri would be most remembered internationally for his work alongside George Mitchell in co-chairing the talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement.

Alliance leader David Ford said that Mr Holkeri would be remembered for his fairness and diligence in co-chairing the peace talks.

The Justice Minister said: "The people of Northern Ireland owe Harri an enormous debt of gratitude for his hard work in this role and for his ability to help in moving the peace process forward."

The co-chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly Joe McHugh TD said that Harri Holkeri played a crucial role in the difficult and often tense negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr McHugh said: "While his role was not as celebrated or as public as that of Senator George Mitchell, his contribution was appreciated by many of those who participated in the talks."

Mr Holkeri received an honorary knighthood in 1999 for his work in the Northern Ireland peace talks.

He died after a prolonged illness.

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