Monday 15 October 2018

'It broke like a thunder cloud across the world' - Bill Clinton praises Good Friday Agreement on Dublin trip

Speaking today as he was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate at The Helix in Dublin City University

Former US president Bill Clinton receives an honorary doctorate from Dublin City University in Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo Niall Carson/PA Wire
Former US president Bill Clinton receives an honorary doctorate from Dublin City University in Dublin. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo Niall Carson/PA Wire
Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

Former US President Bill Clinton has told how the Good Friday Agreement broke like a thunder cloud across the world - as he urged people to embrace diversity.

He was speaking today as he was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate at The Helix in Dublin City University.

In a citation for the former President delivered by Professor Gary Murphy, he said he had long been "a friend of Ireland."

Mr Murphy paid tribute to his role in Northern Ireland, and said he had been credited by both former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern - who was present at the event today - and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as being instrumental to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

"President Clinton took many risks, among them the granting of a visa to Gerry Adams to visit the United States in 1994," he said.

Mr Clinton said: "You have been kind enough to give me this degree, because I did what I could to make it happen, starting in the beginning with the Visa to Gerry Adams and then all the things that happened later, and the involvement of Senator George Mitchell."

"The great trick is to own your own identity, embrace your own tribe, but form a community with what you have in common, with those you can't get away from, is more important than your differences."

He said that the accord saw shared decision making, and special ties to the Republic of Ireland as well as to the UK.

"It was really quite something. There had never been any peace agreement exactly like it before. It broke like a thunder cloud across the world."

He said elsewhere people saw it and thought "well if they can pull this off after all these decades maybe we should too," he said.

"What is central to our identity? What we have in common, or what is different?

"All partnerships that are community based are held together not because everybody agrees with everybody else,  not because we don't still have our different identities, they are because cooperation is better than conflict or isolation, in any environment in which you must be in touch with others."

"But we are re-litigating it now," he said, pointing to what has happened during elections across a number of European states.

However, he said that the world is now in a conflict between whether we should stop our mingling with others at the tribal level, or whether communities are better - whether diverse groups make better decisions and create more wealth and opportunity, or homogeneous ones, because they don't push us so hard, and we feel more secure.

"I can fill this great auditorium with the scientific evidence that diverse groups make better decisions."

"I love to quote Pope Francis. He said that we should live in a culture of encounter. Not that we should agree with each other all the time. Not that everybody should be right all the time. But we should encounter each other as people and find ways to be together."

"In my country, there have been people who think its okay to disenfranchise people if they are community oriented, rather than tribe oriented. "

Around 1,000 people were present at The Helix at Dublin City University (DCU) today - including businessman Denis O'Brien - to see the former President, as well as Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, who has well known for her work with the poor and homeless, and business leader Martin Naughton,  be conferred with Honorary Doctorates.

Mr Clinton made an address lasting over 20 minutes, after signing the Roll of Honour after accepting the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

He  described Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a "very impressive man." and said he had spoken to him yesterday about the work Ireland has done with the United Nations since its foundation.

Speaking about the recipients, Dr Martin McAleese, the chancellor of DCU said that: "There is no way of successfully measuring what Ireland owes each of them, but we do know that we are in their debt." He said that they were being awarded with the highest honour the University could confer.

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