Speech at Queen’s University Belfast to mark the 20th Anniversary of the visit of President Bill Clinton to Belfast
Great Hall, QUB
President Clinton is someone who continues to greatly inspire me – from his Presidency through to his work at the Clinton Foundation.
Like myself, he was a recovering lawyer and then dedicated himself to inspiring change around the world. He embodies any definition of leadership and service to humanity. He took up the President John F Kennedy mantra of asking us all to do what we can for the betterment of our world.
I continue to work on realising my potential and purpose through my work as a peace builder at the Centre for Democracy & Peace Building and in my social entrepreneurial work with Young Influencers.
Young Influencers created a vision 2030 – “that by 2030 NI will be one of the greatest places in the world to live, work, create and visit.”
20 years from now will be 2035. I will be almost the age that President Clinton was when he first came to Northern Ireland.
So tonight, I thought it would be more appropriate to consider what someone who is 20 might say of the Northern Ireland we have created by then.
Well as chance would have it, I do know someone who will be 20 in 2035, my 3-month-old nephew Ollie.
I imagined the letter that Ollie might write to President Clinton on the cusp of his 90th birthday to thank him for the 2035 Northern Ireland in which he now lives.
So here it is, Ollie’s letter to President Clinton dated 30th November 2035:
“Dear President Clinton
I hope this letter finds you and Mrs President Clinton well.
It is hard to believe that 40 years have passed since your historic first visit to Northern Ireland – the first of any U.S. President to my home.
My great-grandfather Bernard, who I am told was a proud Derry man, used to say: “20 years is a long time looking forward, but nothing looking back.” Being 20 I know what he means! And I’m sure Mr President you truly understand it!
I wasn’t born the first time you came to Belfast in November 1995 to light the Christmas tree for peace. My uncle Conor has told me that he remembers that night vividly. At that time he was growing up in Surrey, England. And that it was that very night as they watched images from Belfast on TV that my granny & grandad told him, my uncle Stephen and my mum that they were moving back home to live in Northern Ireland.
They came home to a place where “peace came dropping slow”. But it is a place they love and the place they still call home.
Belfast today in 2035 is an incredible place.
The old ways of ‘labelling’ and seeing difference as a threat are definitely a relic of the past. We proudly celebrate the British, Irish and Northern Irish of our entwined identities and the many other cultures and identities that make up our 2035 Northern Ireland.
This pride means Northern Ireland is now a driving force on these islands. Our politicians, business and civic leaders set the agenda on both the UK and Irish stage. The Prime Minister of the UK is of course a proud Derry man and the new Taoiseach is from just outside Ballymena. We understand our role as global citizens.
Stormont re-opened as the ‘Rory McIlroy Golf Club’ and our politicians now sit in the stunning ‘People’s Assembly’ designed by young designers from across Northern Ireland in the dynamic Titanic Quarter.
As you know, all our political parties came together during the ‘decade of centenaries’ to create a ‘Vision 2030’ to build a legacy rooted firmly in our young people and the future. And working together they have achieved that vision.
At the heart of the Vision 2030 were the 3 C’s: compassion, co-operation and collaboration.
The principle of compassion ensures that we are compassionate in our approach to each other and we used it to reframe all our conversation, discourse and debate. We are now a citizen lead society and this has assisted in making us one of the ‘equality centres of excellence’ in the world.
It has made us a people at peace with ourselves. We have learned to be a lot more gentle on ourselves and each other.
The principle of collaboration resulted in our reputation amongst economists as the ‘Hong Kong of Europe’ for our ability to act as a hub for international inward investment into the UK, ROI and European markets. We are also the launch pad for start-ups, innovators, entrepreneurs and creators.
Our schools, colleges and universities work in tandem with business, commerce and emerging technologies to ensure we maintain the most highly skilled, educated and knowledge based work force in Europe. This of course is lead by Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University – leading the world in research, innovation and ideas.
I have benefited from a world class education – which focused on developing the potential of each child and their creative,technological, artistic, innovative and intellectual abilities. As a result I have secured an apprenticeship with Elon Musk’s SpaceX project which is opening its ‘Mars Coordination Centre’ in Northern Ireland next year, to manage the one million people who are now living there, as he promised back in 2015.
We’ve utilised our proud NI diaspora around the world who are our brilliant Ambassadors in every continent on earth.
And that’s where the third principle of co-operation has really come to help. We have used our economic prosperity to develop world-class infrastructure. Apparently it used to take two and half hours to travel from Belfast to Dublin, now it takes an hour. It’s also hard to believe that just 20 years ago the motorway from Belfast to Letterkenny via Derry didn’t exist!
As you know, the island of Ireland now generates all of its electricity through renewable energy harnessing the wind and tide from the Atlantic.
Our relationship with the U.S. is one of the great examples of co-operation – economically, socially and culturally. We also had a great Fourth of July Party this year to celebrate 240 years of the U.S. Consulate in Belfast. My uncle Conor assures me that the parties there were always legendary and that the Consul-General’s for Northern Ireland were always the elite of the U.S. State Department!
Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention our continued sporting prowess – Ireland winning the 2023 Rugby World Cup on home soil was one of the best days of my childhood, The U.S. haven’t won the Ryder Cup in my lifetime mostly thanks to Rory and the entire ‘Team Europe’ who come from NI! And is there a boxer in the world rankings who isn’t from here?! They epitomise how we proudly punch above our weight.
So our Vision 2030, our principles of compassion, collaboration and co-operation make this a great, welcoming place to live, work, create & visit and one of the most dynamic and innovative countries in our 21st Century world.
On that cold night in Belfast 40 years ago you helped our people believe in themselves. Believe that they had a better future. Thank you for giving us the gift of hope. Our home is your home. Thank you for all you have done for us, Mr President, and for helping to make the place I call home, well, home.
Ps – good luck to Chelsea in the 2036 Presidential election!