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'There is important work to be done': Clinton says politicians should commit to spirit of Good Friday Agreement

A special event to mark the 20th anniversary of the deal has been held in Washington DC.

(Can’t see the video, click here)

Updated: 8.50am

TWO OF THE major players behind the Good Friday Agreement have urged modern day leaders to “reflect on their responsibilities” to protect peace in Northern Ireland.

Former US President Bill Clinton said the day the Good Friday Agreement was signed was one of the happiest of his presidency.

At a special event to mark the 20th anniversary of the agreement in Washington DC, Clinton sent a video message recalling his involvement in the peace talks in the 90s.

The auditorium at the Library of Congress was filled with some of the key political figures who helped get the 1998 peace deal over the line – including the former US envoy George Mitchell.

Clinton said those in the room that played a part in the deal two decades ago should be proud of its legacy, stating that they all “deserve credit for peace”.

The former president said we should all be grateful that peace has lasted for 20 years – but added:

But look, we all know where we are today… We know there is important work to be done to finish the work of the Good Friday Agreement.

He said uncertainties, such as Brexit, are threatening the agreement, but added that none of these problems should be used as an excuse not to build on the progress already made over the years.

Clinton said he could not reflect on that time in history without addressing the present situation. He said none of the stumbling blocks that were holding up the re-establishment of the institutions in the North should hold back on progress.

The 20th anniversary “gives us all the opportunity to recommit” to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, said Clinton.

Taoiseach visits United States of America Senator George Mitchell speaking at a Good Friday Agreement 20th anniversary event at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Source: Niall Carson

In jest, he suggested Mitchell, the former senator who chaired the 1998 negotiations, should be asked to reconvene talks in order to get the show back on the road.

Mitchell, who also addressed the event, urged the leaders of Northern Ireland and the Irish and British governments to carry on the work started more than 20 years ago.

While the signing of the agreement was historic, he said the work didn’t stop there.

Mitchell urged current leaders to look at what their predecessors were able to achieve.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, who was also present, said the Good Friday Agreement was still a beacon of hope to many people – however, on the issue of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, he said he could not see a resolution in the medium-term.

In a statement released on Wednesday morning, a joint committee established under the Agreement to consider human rights issues on the island of Ireland said that Brexit has the power to cause a difference in rights protections on a North-South basis – something which is contrary to the Good Friday Agreement.

Emily Logan Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said: “The peace process was built on a shared vision of equal rights and equal respect on the island of Ireland, as framed by the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.  This joint statement sets out how negotiators on both sides of Brexit can ensure that their stated commitment to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement can be carried through to the final deal. We are now seeking assurances from the UK and Irish Governments that no rights are diluted as a result of Brexit.”

Earlier in the day, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said ongoing engagement and interest from US in Northern Ireland was welcome.

He said the US administration still had influence on Sinn Féin and with the British government and he urged elected representatives to take an interest in resolving the current impasse.

Addressing the Library of Congress audience, he added:

I fully recognise the solemn responsibility that now rests on my shoulders to protect the peace and to build on the progress of the past 20 years.
An entire generation has grown up enjoying a normal, peaceful and prosperous society in Northern Ireland. A miraculous transformation has taken place.

Varadkar said the period after Easter should see a redoubled effort on the part of both governments and all of the parties in Northern Ireland to seek agreement on the restoration of the institutions.

It is my view that this will require very close co-operation and leadership from the British and Irish governments. It may be that again the governments will have to table our own proposals to help the parties break the deadlock.

Taoiseach visits United States of America Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at a Good Friday Agreement 20th anniversary event at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Source: Niall Carson

He said it was important to remember the rights of everyone in Northern Ireland.

“In this year of 2018, we remember that the Ulster-Scots Protestants are as much a part of the history of the Irish in America as the Irish Catholics are. In the same way, they are an integral, respected and valued part of the history – and the future – of the island of Ireland.”

“The Good Friday Agreement is our precious inheritance and our immovable foundation for future relationships. It has come under attack from some quarters recently – from people with narrow political agendas who do not understand Ireland and our history. They will not prevail.

We must engage young people in the future of our island. In the months and years ahead, I want to engage with the next generation – the Agreement Generation – to build on those achievements. Our mission now is to imagine the next 20 years.

‘No hidden agenda’

Meanwhile, seeking to reassure unionists on the matter of Brexit, Varadkar also said there is “no hidden agenda” behind his attempts to restore the power-sharing executive.

He said he understood the concerns of the community over statements made by the Irish government during Brexit talks.

I would like to speak to the representatives of unionism here tonight and to unionists at home in Northern Ireland. I know that you are concerned – perhaps worried – maybe even angry, at recent political developments.
I recognise that recent statements and actions by Irish nationalists, including the Irish Government, about Brexit have been seen as unwelcome or intrusive.

“If that is the case, I want to make it clear that it certainly was not our intention,” he added.’s political reporter Christina Finn will be bringing you all the latest updates from Leo Varadkar’s visit to Washington this week, including his meeting with US President Donald Trump on Thursday.

Stay up-to-date by following @ChristinaFinn8@TJ_Politics  and’s Facebook page.   

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