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Former president praises Corrymeela's peace 'contribution'

Former President Mary Robinson speaking to The Irish News. Picture by Matt Bohill

FORMER Irish pesident Mary Robinson has said peace and reconciliation centre Corrymeela has made an "outstanding contribution" to the north over the last 50 years.

The centre, which was established in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, in 1965, works on cross-community and cross-border reconciliation projects.

Dr Robinson was the keynote speaker at an event at Belfast City Hall on Friday night to mark Corrymeela's landmark anniversary.

The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who served as the first female president of Ireland between 1990 and 1997, said Corrymeela was known internationally for its work.

Speaking ahead of her speech at the event, she said: "I think it's made an outstanding contribution."

"It was there in 1965 before the real Troubles opened up, but people who were aware knew that the discrimination couldn't continue, that there had to be some sort of an addressing of it.

"Then of course over that long period of 50 years Corrymeela has contributed enormously in quiet diplomacy, including leading up to (the) Good Friday (Agreement), in so many public ways, with young people, with people who felt marginalised and forgotten. And it has a very big international reputation."

Dr Robinson said she followed events in the north with "acute, close interest" but did not want to comment on the political impasse at Stormont.

"I try to keep informed and of course I care greatly, but I very wisely don't comment because it's important that those who are engaged in a serious need now to restore confidence in the future will do that," she said.

"I've heard that there is a certain disillusionment of young people, that things have become a bit dysfunctional. That's not good. I think it's important that there is great hope here, and great hope on the island as a whole, and we can find ways to work well together in a very constructive, very Corrymeela way."

During her speech, she quoted from her 1990 inauguration address in which she emphasised "not just friendship, but love for the people of Northern Ireland".

"The word love was quite shocking at that time," she said.

Dr Robinson, who is chancellor of Trinity College Dublin, also works to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on developing countries.

She said climate change "is the biggest human rights issue in the 21st century, hence my focus on climate justice".

"The injustice is very strong because the people most affected now by climate change have made no contribution to the emissions because they don't drive cars, they don't have central heating, they don't use fridges - all the things that contribute," she said.

"They are in very poor situations but they are buffeted by our lifestyles and I find that very disturbing. We must prioritise them in getting access to what we have enjoyed, which is energy, good energy. I think the secret is getting good renewable energy, good lights, good cookstoves, that light in the home where children can do their homework."

Poet Michael Longley, Kathleen Kuehnast, a director at the US Institute of Peace, and musician Duke Special also took part in last night's celebrations.

Corrymeela community leader Pádraig Ó Tuama said: "As we look forward to our next 50 years it is a privilege to have the art of poetry and the analysis of gender and power at the heart of our vision for continuing the work of peace in Northern Ireland and beyond."

On Saturday, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will celebrate Corrymeela's 50th Anniversary at a thanksgiving service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast at 3.30pm.

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