Ahern expresses pride at Good Friday Agreement

All sides involved in the creation of the Good Friday Agreement should feel proud of it, Bertie Ahern said tonight.

All sides involved in the creation of the Good Friday Agreement should feel proud of it, Bertie Ahern said tonight.

After he took part in a conference looking back on the fraught negotiations that led to the 1998 accord, the outgoing Taoiseach also expressed his hope that the North would continue to go from strength to strength.

"I think all of us who played a part in the Good Friday Agreement can feel proud of it," he said.

"We are in an evolving situation and I just hope Northern Ireland goes from strength to strength.

"I think the economic conference (organised by the Stormont Executive for May) is a powerful phase and I hope it attracts new investment.

"I think the underlying problem that it has not been possible to tackle - investment, renewal, better opportunities for people - that is the next phase of it.

"This is not about going back. It is about going forward and forward is renewal."

Mr Ahern was commenting after taking part in a two-hour discussion with key players in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement 10 years ago.

Former US senator George Mitchell, who chaired the talks, Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy, former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, were among those who took part.

Current SDLP leader Mark Durkan, Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey, Progressive Unionist leader Dawn Purvis and former Alliance Party leader John Alderdice, also took part.

Emotional tributes were paid to two key players in the process who have since died, former Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam and loyalist David Ervine.

Former Women's Coalition Assembly member, Monica McWilliams, said: "Mo was so full of optimism and was so positive.

"I agree with (former Minster for Foreign Affairs) David Andrews, she should never, ever become a footnote in the history of the negotiations."

Paul Murphy paid tribute to the calibre of David Ervine.

"I believe that, if David Ervine had been born in Bradford or in Birmingham, he would have been a very distinguished Labour party politician.

"The great thing he brought was his experience of living among loyalist working-class people."

Gerry Adams also paid tribute to the down-to-earth approach of loyalist parties in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations.

"There was no business of not talking or not shaking hands," the West Belfast MP recalled.

"The people who were there representing the Ulster Democratic Party and the Progressive Unionist Party never had any of that nonsense. They were straightforward and they shook hands.

"David Ervine's role in all of this was hugely significant and, with the exception of the PUP and UDP, working-class unionism has been badly served.

"I think the passing of David is a big loss, not just to that section, but to all of us."

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