Belfast Agreement a ‘model’ of peacebuilding for other global conflicts, Hillary Clinton says

Heaton-Harris says ‘surest way’ to secure place of North in UK is to restore devolved institutions and deliver for public

The Belfast Agreement will continue to be a “model” of peacebuilding for other conflicts around the world, the former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said.

In an interview with The Irish Times, the former US first lady - now the chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast – said she was “very proud Northern Ireland led the way”.

“In today’s very difficult political international context, anything that holds out hope that divides can be crossed and bridges can be built and people can get along with former adversaries is so necessary,” she said.

Ms Clinton is in Belfast for a major conference at Queen’s University marking the 25th anniversary of the Agreement, signed on Good Friday 1998, which ended the North’s Troubles. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university on Tuesday.


Ms Clinton echoed the calls by other high-profile attendees, including peace talks chairman senator George Mitchell and her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, for the restoration of the power-sharing government set up under the agreement.

The North’s political institutions are not operating because the DUP is continuing to block their formation in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Describing Brexit as “such a shock to the system”, she said “the idea that borders would be reimposed was against the Good Friday Agreement so something had to happen to create the opening for all parties once again to believe that the Good Friday Agreement was still the basis for self-governance”.

“I think the Windsor Framework is that opening and I would hopefully expect all the parties now to reconstitute the government,” she added.

New opportunities

Emphasising the economic benefits the framework would bring to Northern Ireland, she said that “all of a sudden” it had become “a unique place for business and investment to operate from, so I think in addition to clearing the way it also creates this new set of opportunities that a government could take advantage of, which is why it needs to be reconstituted”.

Ms Clinton also reflected on the changes in Northern Ireland since the agreement, saying it was “remarkable” how women have “assumed roles that were just not imaginable 25 years ago”.

“About a third of the Assembly, once the government is reconstituted, will be women … the first minister will be a woman, the head of the civil service is a woman, the head of the judiciary is a woman, I think women have really stepped up into the public arena, running for office, holding office, having important positions within government,” she said.

“So everything we thought would happen if you actually create the right circumstances seems to be happening.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the conference heard from Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris. Both urged the restoration of the political institutions, with Mr Martin appealing to the politicians of Northern Ireland “recapture that spirit” of the Belfast Agreement.


He said the European Commission and the UK government had “stretched themselves in recent months to reach an accommodation that works for Northern Ireland”.

“I know that turbulence will take some time to settle, the parties need to pause and reflect internally on the next steps, but I urge all elected representatives to take their seats in the Assembly and the Executive,” he said.

Mr Heaton-Harris said powersharing was “the surest way” to secure Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and those who are proud of it and want it to continue should “put the Union first, restore the devolved institutions and get on with the job of delivering for the people of Northern Ireland”.

He also said the “narrative” that unionism had not been well-served by the Belfast Agreement was “wrong” and all those who support the agreement “should be vocal in countering it.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times