Alumni engagement and philanthropy


22 May 2019

Bertie Ahern has delivered the annual Harri Holkeri lecture – organised by the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s in partnership with the Embassy of Finland – at the University.

Now in its seventh year, The Harri Holkeri Lecture Series recognises and celebrates the contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process of the late Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri. Holkeri’s aspiration to transform conflict and promote social justice in Northern Ireland and across the world is shared by the Institute.

Previous speakers have included the former Finnish President Tarja Halonen and the current Irish President, Michael D Higgins and Northern Ireland former First Minister, Arlene Foster.

Mr Ahern, who received an honorary degree from the University in 2008, was recently awarded an Honorary Professorship in Peace Studies at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice.

In his lecture – Peace Process – In light of Brexit Issues – on Tuesday 21 May, in a packed Canada Room/Council Chamber, Mr Ahern spoke about the current political situation in Northern Ireland, Brexit and 21 years on from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

He told the audience that Stormont politicians needed to find solutions to ensure power-sharing is returned to Northern Ireland, to address issues on a post-Brexit UK. He asked that the forthcoming summer “is not allowed to pass with no progress and forcing the issue of no-deal Brexit once again on to the table, as the end of October deadline approaches”.

In a thought-provoking lecture, he spoke about the lack of empathy and understanding of Northern Ireland unionists’ position in the light of the June 2016 Brexit referendum and indicated that Northern Ireland had “suffered most from poor perception of its complex concerns”.

He criticised the stance taken by both the DUP and Sinn Féin on issues including the border poll and the backstop, anticipating that there would be a trade agreement between the EU and the UK after Brexit which would rule out the need for the backstop – the legal guarantee to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Mr Ahern served as Taoiseach from 1997 to 2008 and was one of the architects of the Belfast Agreement.

Reflecting on the transformation that had taken place in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement, he called for momentum, reconciliation and partnership and the ‘normalisation of life’, saying that there was a ‘danger of political movement and progress being replaced with a vacuum’.

Media enquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen’s University Communications Office, tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3259.


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