THE peace in Northern Ireland will survive any threat that it is thrown at it, two of its principal architects said yesterday.
Old friends, the former taoiseach Albert Reynolds and former British prime minister John Major, were speaking in Cork after being conferred with the freedom of the city.
Lord Mayor Donal Couniahan chose to honour the men for their joint contribution to the peace process.
He said they took significant personal and political risks for a “greater good, a just and lasting peace”.
Their 1993 Downing Street Declaration led to the establishment of a lasting peace, he said.
“Many before had tried and failed, many afterwards sat through tortuous and sometimes insurmountable objections, false starts, resistance and grandstanding to achieve what we as citizens of the Republic take for granted.”
Speaking in Irish, he said it was fitting that the freedom ceremony was held in a building which was rebuilt with war reparations following the War of Independence.
Quoting a previous freeman of Cork, former US president John F Kennedy, Mr Reynolds said: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.
“And that process is why Sir John and I stand proudly before you here today.
“We both took enormous political risks to successfully address for the first time the competing demands that had dogged nationalist-unionist, north-south and British-Irish relations for centuries.
“The Downing Street Declaration justifiably became famous amongst commentators for the masterful word-craft evident in the text.”
He said the recent visit of Dr Ian Paisley to Cork and Dublin is a further sign of the peace process at work.
“Today our reward is peace on the island of Ireland, but it is a reward that we and our children must work to preserve and cherish forever,” he said.
Mr Major said he was honoured to accept the freedom of the city alongside his old friend Albert.
He said the day, which featured a commissioned poem by Tom McCarthy, would be indelibly printed on his memory.
“Politics is full of advances and setbacks,” he said.
“What I am utterly confident about is there is not going to be a setback that remotely takes us back to the sort of circumstances that existed before.
“There may be political squabbles: that’s in the nature of democracy.
“But the democratic instinct is sufficiently rooted for it to survive any difficulties there may be without uprooting what has been achieved over the last 15 years by so many.”
Mr Major attended yesterday’s ceremony without his wife, Norma, who became ill at the last minute and could not travel.
Mr Reynolds was accompanied by his wife, Kathleen, just a day after celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary.
When asked what the secret of their happy marriage was, he said: “You better ask her.”
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