Hume and Trimble ‘put their careers and lives on the line’ for peace, says Bill Clinton

Former US president makes address in Derry at tribute event honouring architects of the Belfast Agreement

Restoring Stormont can “fairly easily be done” but “we can always find an excuse to say ‘No’,” former US president Bill Clinton has said.

Addressing a packed Guildhall in Derry at a tribute event honouring the late John Hume and David Trimble on the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, Mr Clinton described them as two men who “put their careers and lives on the line” for peace.

“I loved and admired them both. For what they stood for is alive in your lives. Now you, like them, must decide what to do about it,” he said.

Regarded as the key architects of the landmark peace deal, Mr Hume, who led the SDLP and Mr Trimble, who was UUP leader, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.


“I can remember virtually every encounter, virtually every conversation I ever had with John Hume and with David Trimble. Trimble was so modest, I felt he never quite got the credit he deserved,” Mr Clinton said.

Members of the Hume and Trimble families were seated in the front row and warmly greeted by Mr Clinton as he entered through a side door, where he received a standing ovation as guest of honour.

Nicholas Trimble said his father and Mr Hume would always be regarded as “supermen” by “moving the immovable”, while Rachel Hume said her grandfather had dedicated his life to “bringing us peace”.

Teenagers dressed in their school uniforms were among the invited guests to the Making Hope And History Rhyme event, which was organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation, and featured musical performances, poetry and reflections.

Tim Wheeler of Ash dedicated his performance of his band’s hit song, Shining Light, to the journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed by dissident republicans in Derry exactly four years ago.

Mr Clinton told the room her death was a reminder that there are “few permanent victories in politics or life and if we believe something we need to be willing to stand for it as long as we draw breath”.

He said most in the audience were not alive at the time the time of the agreement and, addressing them directly, added it was “your future” the two political leaders were thinking about when they signed the historic deal.

“You have inherited the freedom that peace brings. They did not want you to inherit your parents’ . . . nightmare.

“You were the hope not just in Northern Ireland but in places divided all over the world today.”

He described the “gift of the agreement” as “lifting our lives, our children’s lives and our grandchildren’s lives”, and said that it was important to get Stormont back up and running.

The North has been without a functioning government for more than a year as the DUP refuses to enter the power-sharing executive over its opposition to post-Brexit trading arrangements.

“Based on what I’ve heard, it [Stormont’s restoration] can fairly easily be done if we want to, but we can always find an excuse to say ‘No’,” Mr Clinton said.

“If you’re having a fight in your home, you can always find an excuse to say ‘No’, if you’re struggling with any kind of relationship or struggle, you can always find an excuse to say ‘No’, getting to ‘Yes’ is humanity’s great trial and great goal.

“The people we honour today got to ‘Yes’.”

Earlier in the event two school pupils, James Tourish, who attends St Columb’s College, and Ellianna McBride, a student at Foyle College, received standing ovations for their speech in which they called for political progress.

Mr Tourish said: “We must stand together united and determined to seek and deliver a better future for all on this island . . . there is more that unites the people of this province than what divides us.”

Ms McBride said while peace has created the context for politics and for political institutions to work, “those institutions need to function now”.

“The lack of decision-making on pressing issues in healthcare, employment and education is failing our people. We need political stability if Northern Ireland is to become the vibrant, innovative economy and the tolerant liberal society desired by its young people,” she said.

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times