President Bill Clinton said today that “inclusive tribalism”, as witnessed in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the world, is key to creating a greater global peace.
The 42nd US President was speaking to a packed hall at Dublin Castle for Concern Worldwide’s 50th anniversary conference, ‘Resurgence of Humanity: Breaking the Cycle of Conflict, Hunger and Human Suffering.’
President Clinton, who said he had witnessed Concern’s work in Haiti and on the African continent, said: “The Irish peace process and the work of Concern is rooted in both our common humanity and our notion of what I would call inclusive tribalism. We are all tribal.
“Our common humanity is the most important thing. In an interdependent world, we have to decide which is more important, our differences or our common humanity. We must expand the definition of ‘us’ and shrink the definition of ‘them.’
“It’s about inclusive tribalism, inclusive economics, inclusive social policy, inclusive politics.
“Average people who feel stuck in their own lives don’t have enough space left to be generous to others. It’s not a good time. There is literally no final defeats or victory. This is a demon you have to battle your whole life.”
President Clinton praised Ireland for its overseas humanitarian work and the multicultural diversity of its capital, Dublin.
He said: “Ireland is the only country in the world that every single day since the United Nations was formed after World War Two, has had a citizen in some country trying to help people who needed help because they were poor or repressed because of conflict. No other country in the world can say that.
“There is something in your DNA that makes you feel connected to the rest of the world.
“You go down a street in Dublin and it’s so diverse that you may as well be in a street in Manhattan. And yet you don’t feel anything like the sense of uncertainty you see in some parts of America or some places [in the UK] where they voted for Brexit.
Concluding the conference, Concern’s Chief Executive, Dominic MacSorley, thanked all attendees and said: “In order to see real change there must be a fundamental shift of thought and action.
“Twenty million people facing starvation is not fake news, it is an obscenity, especially because it doesn’t have to be the way. We have the knowledge, the technology and the early warning systems to prevent it happening.
“When the status quo is wrong, it is always right to be radical. I don’t just mean our voice. Denunciation is easy, but radical in our way of thinking, our ambition and our action.
"If we are to see an end to hunger we must challenge the inevitability of violence, and deliver on the promises to those most in need of a safer, fairer world.”
Mr Clinton went on to urge politicians in Northern Ireland to “take a breath” and keep working towards restoring the devolved powersharing Assembly.
The former US president also said that the ongoing negotiations around Brexit were hampering the restoration of Stormont, as politicians do not know what the terms of the withdrawal agreement will be.
Northern Ireland has been without a Government for 20 months following a row over a failed green energy scheme.
There have been a number of failed negotiations between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists, however fresh talks are due within weeks.
Addressing the audience at Dublin Castle on Friday, Mr Clinton said: “If you were a Northern Irish politician you probably wouldn’t want to go into Government either if you didn’t know the details of Brexit and how it will affect Northern Ireland or how it will affect the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic, because how would you know what the terms of the agreement would be.
“There are still cranes up in Belfast and nobody wants to go back to the bad old days, so I think everybody should take a deep breath, and keep working.
“It’s almost impossible to solve real problems if there is no basic trust.
“If people are smart enough to realise that you didn’t have to have a document that would solve every problem, that would permit some solutions to emerge.
“The most important thing to me is that the Irish peace process and the work of Concern is rooted in both our common humanity and our notion of what I call inclusive tribalism.”
Mr Clinton first visited Northern Ireland in 1995, when he switched on the Christmas tree lights at Belfast City Hall, a little over a year after the paramilitary ceasefires, and when the peace process was still in its fledgling stages.
He added that Brexit has created uncertainty on the island of Ireland and how it will impact on the ongoing process of peace and reconciliation.
“Therefore it is a good time to be reminded of first principles and I think the example of the GFA is as good a place to start as any,” he added.
He said that what made the peace process work in Northern Ireland was people willing to compromise, as well as the persistence of ordinary people and the “courage of local leadership”.
“For me, the understanding of what the world should become starts with the Good Friday Accord and ends with the movie, the Black Panther.
“The Good Friday Accord worked first because it came from the bottom – people desperately wanted peace and the citizens weren’t just expressing their wants, they were doing things.
“I still don’t think the women’s groups involved in the Northern Ireland peace process have got the credit they deserve.”
Speaking about the legacy of Concern, he described it as Ireland at its best.
“It’s about inclusive tribalism, inclusive economics, inclusive social policy and personal empowerment.
“You can’t expect a pat on the back every day, you have to do it because it’s right, because you know it’s right and understand what you are dealing with.”
Mr Clinton was presented with a Dublin Gaelic football jersey by footballer Michael Darragh Macauley following their All-Ireland win on Sunday.
Details about Concern Worldwide’s 50th Anniversary Conference, ‘Resurgence of Humanity: Breaking the Cycle of Conflict, Hunger and Human Suffering,’ are available here
Since its foundation in 1968, Concern has gone on to work in over 50 countries, responding to major emergencies as well as implementing long term development programmes.
Today, with more than 3,900 staff of 50 nationalities, Concern operates in 26 of the world’s poorest countries, helping people to achieve major and long-lasting improvements in their lives.
- Digital Desk & Press Association