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Sunak says Good Friday Agreement left 'precious legacy' as Clinton calls for end to Stormont deadlock
19 April 2023, 17:36 | Updated: 19 April 2023, 19:33
Rishi Sunak has said the Good Friday Agreement left a "precious gift" at a three-day event in Belfast marking the peace treaty's 25th anniversary, as former US president Bill Clinton called for an end to the political deadlock at Stormont.
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In the closing speech at the conference at Belfast's Queen's University, Mr Sunak said the deal, which largely ended three decades of violence in Northern Ireland since the late 1960s, was the "extraordinary political achievement of our lifetimes".
"We will also commemorate those who are no longer with us," he said.
The Prime Minister also praised the bravery of those behind the agreement.
"Courage, imagination, and perseverance. Those qualities brought an imperfect but enduring peace to a place taught to believe no such peace was possible," he said.
"To all those who led us to that peace, including those here in this hall and those no longer with us - let us take this moment to say to you 'thank you'."
He also reiterated his ambition to bring greater investment into the country and pointed to its flourishing life sciences and sector, as well as its creative industries and financial services.
"I will use the full force of the UK government to help you make this one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business, create jobs, train and learn new skills, and attract investment," Mr Sunak said.
The conference was also addressed by Bill Clinton, who waded in on the DUP's resignation from Stormont in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol as he called on local politics to get the "show on the road".
"The biggest roadblock that Brexit posed for Northern Ireland's political and economic future has been dramatically mitigated," he told delegates.
Mr Clinton added: "This whole deal was never supposed to be an engine of obstruction. The agreement was never supposed to be used to make sure there could be no self-government."
Irish PM Leo Varadkar said he rededicated "the Irish Government to continue to work with all the parties in Northern Ireland and with our partners in London to drive the process forward to the benefit of all the people of these islands".
He added that Northern Ireland "works best" when the British and Irish governments work together.
The event was attended by US, European and Irish dignitaries, with Presidents of the European Council and European Commission, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, and Hilary Clinton also addressing the audience on the final day.
Ms Von der Leyen described to the role of ex-DUP leader Ian Paisley and his friendship with Martin McGuinness as "one of the miracles" of the political deal.
"History now calls on today's leaders to embark on a similar path," she said.
Jayne Brady, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, said the next mission was to make sure that the peace dividend is felt throughout the region.
"The sad fact is that the legacy of our past still clings to us," she said.
"We are struggling to deal with persistent societal problems, low-paid work, low economic productivity and multi-generational poverty.
"Not all our communities have experienced the benefits of peace and even after 25 years of peacebuilding and investment our job is not yet done."
After the event, Mr Sunak will host a gala dinner attended by political leaders and dignitaries from around the world.