A ceremony has been held this evening (Tuesday) in the historic setting of the Ulster Hall to confer the Freedom of the City of Belfast on President Bill Clinton and Senator George J. Mitchell.
The two American politicians were in Belfast to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and took to the stage in front of hundreds of guests to accept the honour from Lord Mayor Councillor Nuala McAllister on behalf of members of Belfast City Council.
The former US President and Senator Mitchell received the honour in recognition of their services to peace in Northern Ireland, and for the role they played in helping to reach Agreement in 1998.
With a focus on celebrating peace, the ceremony was presented by local author Glenn Patterson and featured music and readings from some of the country’s most celebrated poets including Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Emma Must and John Hewitt.
Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nuala McAllister said: “I am absolutely delighted to be here tonight, marking such an important milestone in our history and recognising the very significant contribution made by President Clinton and Senator Mitchell in peacebuilding.
“Both men played an integral role in helping to bring peace to this part of the world, and have always shown great affection towards the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland. Along with many other prominent peacebuilders, President Clinton and Senator Mitchell helped to bring our communities together, and paved the way for a brighter future for generations to come.
“Their place in our history is assured by receiving this honour, and both President Clinton and Senator Mitchell can be very proud of what they helped us to achieve.”
Speaking about receiving the honour of Freedom of the City, President Clinton said: “The people of Belfast and Northern Ireland have a special place in my heart, and it remains one of the great privileges of my life that I could be part of their journey toward peace.
“The 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement are a testament to people’s determination to put the past behind them and move into the future together. Receiving the Freedom of the City—especially alongside Senator George Mitchell—is an honor I’ll cherish as long as I live. The honor of the peace, however, belongs to all the people of Northern Ireland, including the women and young people who pushed to end the violence, the courageous leaders who took the risks to forge peace, and all those who have strengthened it since.”
Senator Mitchell said: “It is an honor for me to receive the Freedom of the City of Belfast, especially in the company of President Bill Clinton. It was he who asked me to come to Northern Ireland as his representative when I retired from the U.S. Senate; the resulting experience changed my life. After chairing three separate sets of discussions in Northern Ireland, over a span of five years, I then had the privilege of serving as the Chancellor of Queen’s University for ten years. As a result, I have come to know and to greatly admire the people of Northern Ireland. To receive this honor from them is very moving and gratifying to me.”
Both men will be the 83rd and 84th recipients of the Freedom of the City of Belfast.
Earlier in the day, President Bill Clinton and Senator George J. Mitchell attended a peace conference at Queen’s University Belfast. The Building Peace conference hosted by The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s brought together all of the key influencers of the Good Friday Agreement to mark its signing 20 years ago.
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