Ghosts of times past take stage to talk of better future

Macbeth and Hamlet were mentioned by the main protagonists, but in truth, it was far closer to A Christmas Carol.

Ghosts of times past take stage to talk of better future

As the ghosts of the past, never mind the stalled present, floated back to centre stage for the Good Friday Agreement 20 year anniversary, Belfast was treated to its own rendition of the Charles Dickens classic.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were quietly trying to inspire the leaders of today to wake from their year-long slumber, recant, and build towards a better tomorrow.

George Mitchell was reminding the North how far it has come since those tense days of April 1998 when all seemed lost, while Bertie Ahern, David Trimble, Gerry Adamsm and Seamus Mallon were explaining how today’s actions can lead to different tomorrows.

Apart from the presence of ex-DUP leader Peter Robinson, whose party directly opposed the Good Friday Agreement, and you could have been transported back 20 years.

“I feel like I’m stepping onto stage at act three, scene four of Macbeth,” Mr Robinson joked on stage at a Queens University Belfast anniversary event, before Mr Mallon suggested Hamlet — a tale of fatal procrastination all too familiar for Northern politics — might be more apt.

Just like in 1998, the North is once again frozen in time by political stand-offs with no apparent end in sight.

And while the scenario is worlds away from the days of violence and horror of the past, never ones to ignore an opportunity, the subtle political message yesterday was deals can always be struck.

In a heartfelt speech to the Queens crowd, former US senator George Mitchell — who alongside the late Labour MP and then Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam did so much to navigate the 1998 talks — said he has never forgotten the “inspired” leadership of two decades ago that allowed him to connect with his lost ancestry.

Former taoiseach Mr Ahern spoke of the “bond of friendship” it formed, while Mr Robinson and ex-SDLP deputy leader Mr Mallon sought to build bridges by saying a hard border was unwanted and a united Ireland poll too soon.

In front of an audience containing victims of the Troubles and schoolchildren — the latter of whom were repeatedly referenced as speakers wondered what their Northern Ireland will become — Mr Blair spoke passionately about how in 1998 “just for once politicians came into alignment with principle and practical common sense”.

And as if to underline the value such steps can bring, Mr Clinton and Mr Mitchell were then ghosted away to Belfast City Hall to receive their freedom of the city honours.

“You know me, I’m always a glass is half full kind-a guy,” the former US president said before leaving.

“Those people who negotiated it [the 1998 deal] gave you a gift, make the most of it. Remember you inspired the world 20 years ago, you can do it all again today, because the world continues to do stupid things.

“Save the peace, save democracy, inspire the world. You’ll figure it out,” he said to fervent, and pointed, applause.

Expertly balanced in looking forward while remembering the damaged past, it was the perfect quote for the day at hand.

Not quite A Christmas Carol, more An April Reminder. But, throw in a few ghostly political chains and late night knocks on the door, and Dickens could almost have written it himself.

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