Clinton, Blair to mark peace deal anniversary

Thu, Jan 3, 2008, 00:00

Former US president Bill Clinton and former British prime minister Tony Blair may participate in major commemorations planned to mark the 10th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

The Irish Timesunderstands from reliable sources in Dublin and Belfast that tentative moves are in train to check their availability in April and May when a series of events will commemorate the signing of the agreement on Good Friday 1998.

Yesterday the Government confirmed that the Taoiseach will make a major speech in Dublin in April on the significance of the agreement for the island of Ireland over the past decade.

There are political sensitivities surrounding any commemoration in the North, not least that the dominant party in the Executive and Assembly, the DUP, vocally opposed the agreement.

The DUP looks instead to the agreement reached in St Andrews, Scotland, in October 2006 as having provided the major political impetus for the current political settlement and will not favour any high-profile events that focus on the Belfast Agreement. Consequently, there has been speculation that Mr Clinton and Mr Blair may be invited - perhaps in separate appearances - to the Mitchell Conference, a two-day seminar on May 22nd and 23rd. The theme of the conference at Queen's University Belfast is the "lessons from Northern Ireland 10 years on from the Good Friday agreement".

The keynote address will be given by the chancellor of Queen's, former US senator George Mitchell, who chaired the peace negotiations a decade ago.

Other speakers include the former Ulster Unionist leader and first minister Lord Trimble; former deputy first minister Séamus Mallon of the SDLP; former president Mary Robinson; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, current Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and former taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

It was also suggested Mr Blair and Mr Ahern may be conferred with honorary doctorates in recognition of their continuing engagement with the peace process.

Yesterday, the Government said Mr Ahern is expected to attend events in Belfast to mark the 10th anniversary of the agreement but stressed the tentative nature of arrangements.

"Precise details of these events, or the possible participation of Tony Blair or Bill Clinton, have yet to be finalised," said the government spokesman. According to the Northern Ireland Office, no major events have been planned at this stage.

The Government said that while the 10th anniversary is significant, its main focus will be on ensuring that the institutions work effectively and that key issues - such as the devolution of policing and criminal justice powers - are resolved.

In February, Mr Ahern will chair a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Dublin and will co-chair, with the First and Deputy First Ministers, a plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in Dundalk. He is also expected to meet British prime minister Gordon Brown.

Another significant event will be the official opening of the Battle of the Boyne site.

In addition to his Dublin speech, the Northern Ireland peace process is also expected to dominate the Taoiseach's address to the joint houses of the US Congress later this year.