What a fortnight for Northern Ireland. Not one but two US Presidents, the European Commission President, current and former Prime Ministers and Taoisigh, world diplomats, academics and business leaders all descended on Northern Ireland to reflect, renew and reimagine the Good Friday Agreement, 25 years on.
It was undoubtedly a momentous time, and Northern Ireland is hugely privileged to have the level of international support and goodwill for this place we call home. It truly is unique and almost nowhere else in the world commands such sustained support and friendship from so many big players. It tells us that the journey that was started with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is precious, and we should never take it for granted. As Senator George Mitchell one of the chief architects of the Agreement said so eloquently in his landmark speech on Day 1 of the #Agreement25 Conference at Queen’s University Belfast – “Twenty-five years ago, the people of Northern Ireland and their leaders changed the course of history. It was a day when history opened itself to hope.”
We do still need to fully realise this hope, however. We need to appreciate this international goodwill more and harness it better to ensure we remain firmly on the pathway to a sustained peace. We can and we must use it and the promise of inward investment to help make Northern Ireland a prosperous region where our children and grandchildren can grow up in and flourish. It would be unforgivable if we were to somehow squander this opportunity.
At Morrows while we were very pleased to participate in a number of the key events over the last couple of weeks as guests, we were also privileged that our team played a small but important role in supporting a number of the key events.
Our Event Director Jane Watson was called upon at short notice to help ensure President Biden had a warm (and well lit) welcome to what turned out to be a wet and windy Northern Ireland on Easter Tuesday night. Working with the NIO and the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Jane and her trusted supplier network put in place a range of infrastructure for the arrival of Air Force One at Aldergrove. We had to ensure the runway was well lit for a late evening arrival and also facilitated media attendance with media risers to deliver a suitable vantage point. Jane, the consummate event professional that she is, as usual showed her unflappable determination and adaptability to ever changing circumstances and timeframes. So much so, we have renamed her J-Force One.
As attention turned to the hugely impressive #Agreement25 Conference at QUB we also were asked to deliver some video content at short notice capturing the reflections of future business leaders on the Good Friday Agreement as well as their views on the future. Our Production Director Moya Neeson expertly produced and delivered this content which was to feature as part of the third day of the programme called – Reimagine. This was the day that saw former US President Bill Clinton, QUB Chancellor Hillary Clinton, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Congressman Joe Kennedy III,US Special Envoy to NI for Economic Affairs sharing their thoughts on the need to reimagine the future under the GFA.
We were also immensely proud that one of our very own young leaders, Company Director Clare Daly was featured in the videos. Clare is a member of the CBI Northern Ireland Future Leaders Network, and she joined fellow members to share their thoughts and opinions on the past as well as the future.
These videos (below) captured the hopes, aspirations, and potential for the Northern Ireland economy. While they and indeed the whole events of the last two weeks filled us with confidence for the future of this place there is a but.
We like many others know that if we are to fully realise that potential, we need a functioning and stable government in Northern Ireland to help lead the way. Many speakers at the conference made it clear that this was critical to give the necessary confidence to those queuing up to invest in Northern Ireland. The continued political impasse has been very unhelpful to say the least as public services and the voluntary sector who rely on public money to deliver vital community face serious budget pressures.
Leadership, like that shown 25 years ago is required now. We hope that despite the political rhetoric that abounds, the opportunity to restore a local Executive and Assembly is grasped soon. Equally we hope that we can all commit to ensuring this is this last time that it will be collapsed. As Prime Minister Sunak rightly put it.
“When we look back in 25 years from now, surely we should aspire for our legacy to be nothing less than this: that the institutions have been up and running for every single year.” Or as the still charismatic former President Bill Clinton said, “It’s time to get this show on the road.“
Senator Mitchell reminded us that the Good Friday Agreement was always a much longer project and that he said then that it would take other leaders in the future to safeguard and extend their work. We are perhaps only half the way there on this journey and we must keep going rather than turn back. His appeal to our political leaders was to act with courage and vision, as their predecessors did 25 years ago. “To find workable answers to the daily problems of the present. To preserve peace. To leave to the next generation peace, freedom, opportunity, and the hope of a better future for their children.”
Amen to that.