Peace process transformed Ireland, North and South: Ahern
by Bárbara Orozco DÍAZ for Northern Ireland Foundation
31 May 2016
Professor Patrick Johnston (Chief Executive, Queen’s University Belfast) introduced the closing event of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice’s Spring Festival, described the guest speaker as a “man of peace and builder of bridges”. The professor was referring to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who in a crowded room delivered his lecture, “Reflections on Peace in a Changed Ireland”.
Political engagement and democratic dialogue
Mr Ahern used the word game-changer to describe the transformation of the island through the peace process started in early 1990s, its conclusion with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and its aftermath that as he pointed out: “changes Ireland North and South for the better”.
According to him: “The commitment of democratic politics and their rejection of the violence as a political means have been fundamental to the development of the prosperous society that is emerging in Northern Ireland”.
Also, he affirmed that dialogue is the only way to manage and to resolve the profound differences existing in Northern Ireland, a lesson taught by the peace process.
He said: “Northern Ireland has been served well by a generation of political leaders who put the cause of peace first”, but “the process could not have triumphed without a British Prime Minister [Tony Blair] with conviction and perseverance”.
Reconciliation and economic regeneration
After the long conflict that brought social and economic losses and drew an image of Ireland as a dangerous place with bombs and gunfire, Mr Ahern looked back on the purpose that everyone joined in a ‘new history’, built on simple principles of cooperation, understanding, and willingness to celebrate the diversity of this island with a fresh start of reconciliation and protection of human rights.
Peace and reconciliation needs to drive the economy, and he believes that the economic regeneration of the island is led by the cooperation of both states.
He explained: “Working together, we commit important progress in areas such as tourism, agriculture, energy, and the environment, along with the job creation and enterprise investment … Good jobs and family prosperity is the way in the future.”
And he recalled that “to the success of reconciliation, it is crucial to remember that peace has to be built step by step … it is very slow process” and added the importance of persuading people that peace brings economic and social benefits”.
“It is important for me to emphasise as a former president of the European Union that the EU remains a force for good in global affairs,” Mr Ahern told the audience.
He highlighted the contribution of the free democratic EU to the process of peace building not only in Ireland, but also in places like Turkey, the Middle East and the Basque Country.
Mr Ahern expressed as a deep conviction that the future of Northern Ireland will be better delivered within the European Union.
Bertie Ahern was elected Taoiseach three times in June 1997, in June 2002 and in May 2007. He occupied the Presidency of the European Council from January 2004 to June 2004. Since leaving Government in 2008, Bertie Ahern has dedicated his time to conflict resolution and is actively involved with many groups around the world.