Political news

Congressman awarded for role in peace process

Former US congressman Bruce Morrison

A former US congressman has been honoured for his contribution to building peace in Northern Ireland.

President Michael D Higgins last night presented the Peacebuilder Award to Bruce Morrison, on behalf of the Center for Religion, Conflict and Culture at Drew University.

Speaking at a ceremony at Club Na Muinteori in Dublin, the president said Mr Morrison had worked towards achieving peace with a generosity and tenacity for which the people of Ireland were profoundly grateful.

For many Irish and Irish Americans, Mr Morrison is also known for pioneering the Immigration Reform Act of 1990, which increased the total visas granted by 200,000 and included 48,000 for Irish immigrants - now called the Morrison Visas.

The Connecticut Democratic Party congressman acted as a key intermediary between Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, the White House, and the Republic's government in the early 1990s.

He was one of a group that was crucial in paving the way for Mr Adams' visa into the US in February 1994 to address the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. Mr Morrison continued to play an active role in the peace process throughout the 1990s and conducted negotiations leading to the renewed IRA ceasefire in 1997.

Last night, the president praised Mr Morrison for provided briefing on Northern Ireland issues to his fellow Yale Law School alumnus, Bill Clinton, during his 1992 presidential campaign and throughout his two terms in office.

"In particular, you participated with great zeal and political skill in the activities of the Americans for a New Irish Agenda, a group of people who are widely credited with having facilitated the negotiations that eventually led to the IRA ceasefires of 1994 and 1997," President Higgins said.

"Since your first visit to Belfast, in 1987, you have travelled to Northern Ireland on numerous occasions, to meet in person with protagonists from all sides - to discuss, to challenge, to persuade.

"So many of the milestones in the Northern Irish peace process - the ceasefires, declarations and agreements - would not have been possible without the quiet diplomacy, the patient persuasion, the repeated conversations that preceded and outlasted them. They would not have happened without the trust and the personal relationships built over time, painstakingly."

President Higgins said Mr Morrison challenge the established impression of the conflict in the north as intractable and insoluble.

"Twenty years ago, many were those who could see no way out of the pattern of violence that seemed to ensnare the people of Northern Ireland. Thousands of lives had been lost, and countless more marred by mistrust and fear," he added.

"It took a transformation of vision, an act of political imagination, for this situation to change. Progress, in that crucial decade preceding the Good Friday Agreement, can be charted by the number of people who came to share the view that a lasting peace was possible. In your own words, Mr. Morrison: `What was impossible became conventional wisdom. Such is the measure of success'."

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