This week in Belfast, over 200 international delegates from around the globe will come to Belfast for ‘Peace and Beyond’. This is an international conference focused on peace-building to mark the 20th anniversary of the Agreement led by the British Council in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast & Ulster University in association with CDPB. This international focus reflects the ripple of the Agreement and encourages us to realise that we can be global leaders in how to build the bridge between peace and reconciliation.
It will also be the week in which the world will reflect on the leaders whose vision and courage brought about the Agreement. My alma mater will host President Clinton, Senator George Mitchell, Jonathan Powell, Bertie Ahern, Lord Trimble, Monica McWilliams, Gerry Adams, Lord Alderdice, Seamus Mallon and many others. This generation understood the importance of compromise and the courage required in relationship building.
Our great hope must be that our current generation of politicians can summon the same vison and courage.
For me, this week will also be about our unsung heroes: the every-day peace builders.
There are many within our society who have been building bridges for their entire lives: often at great cost to themselves and their families.
I think of the extraordinary role of religious minsters; our journalists; our business people; our educators; our trade unionists; our community workers; our student movement; our women’s organisations; our youth organisations; our LGBTQ+ organisations; our ethnic minority organisations; campaigners for those with disabilities; our musicians, artists & entertainers; our community & voluntary sector; our entrepreneurs; our police service & emergency service providers; our healthcare professionals; our public servants, our politicians, our civic leaders and all those who have lived out the values of the Agreement.
I think of our victims – that we will find a way to bind up the wounds of the nation to build a peaceful future as a legacy to all who died.
I think of the incredible generation growing up in our home: the social entrepreneurs, young professionals, digital experts and ambitious business people. They are building our prosperity process – they understand their responsibility to give opportunity to all.
I think of our selfless philanthropists who have dedicated their passion, energy, time and money to build peace. I’m fortunate to be involved with The Ireland Funds who epitomise this dedication. 40 years: 3000 organisations committed to peace, reconciliation, sports, the arts and education supported by this innovative and dynamic organisation. Understanding that philanthropy equals progress.
It’s why this Thursday, as part of ‘Peace and Beyond’, every day peace builders will be celebrated across 7 venues with 30 organisations and 60 speakers . We will showcase just a snapshot of the thousands of inspiring, innovative and incredible people and organisations who day-in-day-out dedicate themselves to building peace and finding solutions to the complex issues we face.
These people and the thousands like them, represent my great hope for the place I am proud to call home. They represent the vision, courage, resilience and leadership that will continue our journey towards reconciliation.
In 2021, just 3 years from now, this island will begin a ‘second century’. For the Republic of Ireland: it will mark the second century of independence. For Northern Ireland: it will mark the second century of partition / the creation of the state of Northern Ireland.
I ask this question: by the end of the second century, what will we have achieved?
For me, the answer lies in the Agreement. New beginning; Fresh Start; Tolerance; Mutual Trust; Human Rights for All; Partnership; Equality; Mutual Respect; Exclusively Democratic & Peaceful Means; Good Faith; Reconciliation.
Let us take these ideals and realise them in a meaningful and inclusive way.
I believe the best way to answer this question is to ask the next generation. My two-year-old nephew Ollie will probably live to see the 22nd Century.
Therefore, we must have the courage, not to be bound by our own fixation of what the future might be. Rather to dare to ask: what kind of society do we want for our children.
We as a people have a unique opportunity in human history: to build upon our hard-earned peace, to reconcile and to re-imagine the potential of our relationships to build a home of hope.