Northern Ireland’s peace process has set an example to the world, former US President Bill Clinton told business leaders in Belfast last night.
He lauded others imitating it around the world and noted even the language surrounding the decommissioning of arms had been adopted in places like the Basque country.
He told business leaders in Belfast an inter-dependent world of networks was the future for tackling global problems.
“Nobody can hold on to yesterday if it is choking tomorrow,” he said.
He warned that advanced societies needed to get back into the support business.
“We live in an inter-dependent world – it is wonderful but too unequal and not sustainable,” he added, calling for greater cooperation.
He said: “The objective has to be to create a world with shared opportunities, shared responsibilities and shared sense of community, to do on a global scale what we have been working on for 20 years in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Clinton delivered the inaugural William J Clinton leadership lecture at Queen’s University Belfast to around 150 guests from the worlds of academia and industry.
He last visited Queen’s in 2001, when he received an honorary degree from the university in recognition of his contribution to Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Last night the university formally named the William J Clinton Leadership Institute, based at the university’s Riddel Hall, in his honour.
Queen’s vice-chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston said: “This is a historic occasion for Queen’s University Belfast. It is also a proud moment for me as I begin my tenure as vice-chancellor and it is a landmark event in the life of Northern Ireland.
“We are honoured that President Clinton has given his name to our leadership institute and we are delighted that he has joined us in person to set the seal on that partnership.
“Once again he is demonstrating his belief in Northern Ireland and its people, as he has done with such dedication and commitment in the recent past. Now he is giving his support to an institute that will provide our community with the leaders of the future, in business and in public life.
“The William J Clinton Leadership Institute symbolises our purpose: to create positive change in our society, to provide opportunity for individuals, organisations and institutions to grow and, in his words, help to build creative networks of cooperation.”
President Clinton responded: “I have long tried to support economic development in Northern Ireland and believe preparing young leaders is essential to long term prosperity. So I am happy to be associated with this institute.”
Last night’s dinner in Mr Clinton’s honour took place at the institute.
The annual lecture there will now be a platform for global thinkers and influential business figures, aiming to inspire future leaders.
The institute’s vision is to support the Northern Ireland economy by developing business leaders with a global outlook. It was established in response to the need identified by government for improved management and leadership development ‘fit for 21st century challenges’.
The relocation of the Institute of Directors (Northern Ireland) to Riddel Hall demonstrates the confidence of the business community in supporting the institute. Business leaders contributed £5m towards the cost of Riddel Hall’s development, which is also home to Queen’s University Management School.
Mr Clinton also used the opportunity of his speech last night to address his global concerns, saying Ukrainians have a right to be free.
He warned Russia was putting all its eggs in one basket by relying on military might to “cut off the heads” of its neighbours.
And he said citizens of the battleground state wanted to fulfil their own destiny.
“We want a Ukraine that is first of all whatever they want, including if they don’t want to be in the EU, they have the right to be whoever they want to be, to have an honest government to have a democratic government, to be free,” he said.
“They have waited a long time, they deserve it.”
He paid tribute to the hundred “brave” people who lost their lives storming government buildings in Kiev.
“They took not one sculpture, they looted nothing, nothing was stolen.”
He added: “What they want is to be in the country of their own destiny, to relate to Russia and Europe and to be a bridge between the two. A bridge is an incompatible concept if we believe all geo-politics is zero-sum.
“If I were running Russia I would personally want to have growing reform, growing trade and contact with an ever more prosperous Europe so that I had diversified streams of income and opportunity and I did not put all my eggs in being able to put them on their knees by cutting off their heads.”
He said Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s actions smacked of old politics.
Once, when Boris Yeltsin did not have enough money to bring his soldiers back from the Baltics, Mr Clinton raised $24bn to help him, he said.