Ahern, Blair to be honoured at Queen's University

Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair will be honoured by Queen’s University Belfast today for their role in the North's peace process.

The recently retired Taoiseach and former British Prime Minister are both being presented honorary degrees.

While Mr Ahern will be travelling from Dublin to receive his doctorate of law, Mr Blair is unable to be present but will appear and express his thanks through a video recorded in his London office last month.

It is understood to be the first honorary degree awarded to Mr Blair since he stood down as British premier last year.

Queen’s University said the two men, who both led their countries for more than a decade, were being honoured in recognition of the significant contribution they made to the cause of peace in the North.

The awards are being made at the beginning of a major conference at the university which will be exploring the lessons to be learned from the North’s experience of peace-building and regeneration.

The Mitchell Conference – named after the university’s Chancellor, Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the political talks which led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement – is a joint initiative by Queen’s and Georgetown University in Washington.

It will bring together political, community and business leaders – including the first Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister, David Trimble and Seamus Mallon.

The two-day gathering will examine how the North’s transformation can inspire others in conflict zones across the globe.

Queen’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Gregson, who will confer the degrees on the two former leaders, said: “When Tony Blair first sat down at his desk in Downing Street and when Bertie Ahern became Taoiseach, they must both have been tempted to take the files marked Northern Ireland and push them to one side.

“There were many important things for both of them to do and Northern Ireland had defeated many premiers before them.”

Prof Gregson added: “Some called them brave, other foolhardy, but Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern took up the challenge and we have all benefited.

“Northern Ireland today has its own administration, with politicians from all political persuasions working together for the common good of their people.

“Queen’s University is proud to honour both men for the key roles they played in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.”

Mr Blair and Mr Ahern share more than their determination over the peace process.

Both took office in 1997, both won three elections and while Mr Ahern was the youngest Taoiseach of modern times, Mr Blair was the youngest British Prime Minister of the 20th century.

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