When the 55th Congress of Liberal International gathers liberal activists and politicians together from across the world in Belfast this month, the LI President, Lord Alderdice, could be forgiven for taking particular personal pleasure in giving them a warm Irish welcome. Belfast is his home town and this year is the 10th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which he and others negotiated together in 1998, bringing to an end not just 30 years of terrorism in this beautiful island, but arguably hundreds of years of violent political division. The Congress will take as its theme “Our Shared Future”, and will explore not only the problems of addressing long-standing violent political conflict, but also the increasingly acute global problems of movement of people, minority rights and environmental degradation and threat. However given the venue and the anniversary, conflict resolution will of course attract much of the attention of delegates.
Speaking in Belfast as preparations for the Congress near completion, Lord Alderdice said:
“There is of course profound symbolism in holding the LI Congress in the Europa Hotel. It was once the most bombed hotel in the world, but became the setting for US President Bill Clinton, and leading politicians from Britain and Ireland to set Northern Ireland on the road to peace and economic prosperity. Last month Northern Ireland celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, but its importance is not to be found in looking back at the past, but in applying its lessons at home and elsewhere. It is no accident that last week saw Northern Irish and South African politicians meeting with Iraqi parliamentarians to assist them in finding a way forward, and this week I will return again to the Middle East where our work is also finding resonances with, and giving some hope to the political leaders of divided communities there.
Liberals are not just about the freedom and dignity of individual people, we also recognize that none of us can fulfill our potential on our own, especially when we are struggling against the giants of hunger, disease, poverty, war and increasingly, of environmental degradation. These are giants which can only be addressed when we work together. It is no accident that we are gathering in Belfast, a place where hope has gradually emerged out of the ashes of a city of despair. This Congress will be a time of thoughtful, earnest debate and policy development, but it will also be a celebration of the growth of liberalism throughout the world as we welcome many new member parties into the liberal family, and I believe that our liberal friends will be able to leave Belfast enthused about the opportunities liberals have to build a better shared future than appears possible at this very difficult and dangerous time in global affairs.