DCU News
News at DCU
Prof Monica McWilliams, Prof Daire Keogh and Bertie Ahern
Prof Monica McWilliams, Prof Daire Keogh and Bertie Ahern Photo: Kyran O'Brien

DCU award honorary doctorate to Good Friday Agreement signatories Bertie Ahern and Monica McWilliams

Ceremony marks 25th anniversary of landmark peace treaty

Today (Thursday 2 March) Dublin City University conferred the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris Causa) on former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and Professor Monica McWilliams, campaigner for peace and a signatory of the Good Friday Agreement on behalf of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition. 

The special ceremony took place in The Helix on DCU’s Glasnevin campus, and marked the 25th anniversary of the 1998 signing of the Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement.

Speaking at the ceremony today, Professor Daire Keogh, President of Dublin City University, said: 

“Today, we honour two brave individuals from very different backgrounds, who are united in their passion for peace. Both are bridge builders and share an innate ability to bring people together, to find common ground, to make connections. Both played pivotal roles in the creation of the Good Friday Agreement the anniversary of which we commemorate today.”

Good Friday Agreement

Bertie Ahern donning his robe ahead of his honorary conferring
Bertie Ahern donning his robe ahead of his honorary conferring Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Professor Monica McWilliams was a founding member of the Women’s Coalition and is a graduate of Queen's University Belfast and the University of Michigan. She later became Professor of Women's Studies and Social Policy at the University of Ulster. She served as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLA) for Belfast South from 1998 to 2003, and was appointed as Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission from 2005 to 2011.

In 2021, she published Stand up Speak Out: My Life working for women's rights, peace and equality in Northern Ireland.

In a citation prepared and delivered at the event, Yvonne Daly, Professor of Criminal Law and Evidence in the School of Law and Government, said:

“As discussions on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland began in earnest in the early 1990s, there were no women representatives from Northern Ireland at Westminster or in the European Parliament. Thinking about her experience of being active in civil society, Monica wondered how she could become more involved in the tentative efforts to bring peace. From the existing links between women’s advocacy groups came the idea to establish a new political party, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, that would seek election with the purpose of being present at the planned peace talks. There were just eight weeks from establishment, to successful election, to the beginning of the peace talks.”

Prof Monica McWilliams donning her robe ahead of her honorary conferring
Prof Monica McWilliams donning her robe ahead of her honorary conferring Photo: Kyran O'Brien

In her own remarks today, Professor Monica McWilliams referenced the Windsor Framework and her advice for political leaders in Northern Ireland:

“This week, as we await the outcome of the agreement reached between the UK and EU on Brexit negotiations, my message to those in Belfast is to focus on the dividends for all. We need our young people to thrive with a decent livelihood instead of getting caught up as rich pickings for the macho men in the alphabet soup of paramilitary groups.”

Introducing the ceremony, Brid Horan, Chancellor of Dublin City University, said:

“Today, marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, we are proud and delighted to honour two other peacemakers. Monica McWilliams and Bertie Ahern had a vision of a different Ireland, free of conflict.  Both took significant risks and made huge personal sacrifices to ensure that this island could become a more peaceful, prosperous place.”

Bertie Ahern was first elected Taoiseach in June 1997,  at the time the youngest Taoiseach yet elected. He went on to become the longest serving Taoiseach since Éamon de Valera

Bertie Ahern and Monica McWilliams
Bertie Ahern and Monica McWilliams Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Eoin O'Malley, Associate Professor in Political Science at the School of Law and Government, delivered the citation for the former Taoiseach’s honorary doctorate. He said:

“The Belfast Agreement was eventually signed, and while it depended on many people to get over the line, no one can doubt the key role Bertie Ahern had in delivering a deal that has allowed a kind of normality that seemed impossible some years before… Since his retirement from active politics Bertie Ahern has brought his skills and experience to bear on other conflicts, and many other people and places have sought to learn the lessons from Ireland.”

Speaking at the ceremony, Bertie Ahern said:

“We have had twenty-five years of peace. Compare the twenty-five years since that historic Good Friday with the quarter century of bloodshed that preceded it. The difference is between light and dark. In the grind of daily politics, there is understandable frustration that what was hoped for has only been realised partially or occasionally. I understand that frustration and I share it. But I also have a sense of perspective that twenty-five years of peace is a golden era, compared to what was and to what could have been. More importantly, I am convinced that what is to come, what is still possible, is better yet.”

DCU has previously conferred an honorary doctorate on peace process architects Seamus Mallon, David Trimble, John Hume and Senator George Mitchell, and to former US President Bill Clinton.