A poignant portrait exhibition by award-winning artist Colin Davidson which was supposed to herald the regeneration of Enniskillen’s Clinton Centre will not be in place to mark the twentieth anniversary of the historic signing of the Good Friday Agreement because the Clinton Centre is “not ready.”

Former US President Bill Clinton regards his involvement in the deal that brought peace to Northern Ireland as his greatest foreign policy achievement.

Leaked emails showed that, six years ago, President Clinton’s senior adviser suggested removing his name from the Clinton Centre and carrying out a detailed review of the centre and its operations and funding.

READ: Bill Clinton advised to pull his name from Enniskillen peace centre

Since President Clinton opened the centre in 2002, it has housed a youth hostel, an art gallery, a cafe and a first stop shop initiative. The hostel facilities are currently being used by 15 international hospitality students.

In October 2017, during a visit to Northern Ireland, President Clinton announced a new joint initiative to renew and enhance the peace-building vision of the Clinton Centre. 

During a meeting with DUP Leader Arlene Foster, he apologised to the people of Fermanagh for taking “so long” to “get something up to scale at the Clinton Centre.”

President Clinton said he was “incredibly honoured” that Dublin City University, Ulster University and University of Massachusetts had come together in a joint initiative that would include a number of activities at the Centre.

The universities had announced that Colin Davidson’s ‘Silent Testimony’ exhibition would coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which is just over a week from now. 

However, The Impartial Reporter has learned that the Centre requires structural works and this has delayed the planned schedule of activities.
The universities have told this newspaper they “remain enthusiastic and excited with regard to the opportunity to host ‘Silent Testimony’ in the near future.”

It is understood Mr. Davidson – an eminent artist from County Down whose work includes Queen Elizabeth, Brad Pitt, Seamus Heaney and Ed Sheeran – views ‘Silent Testimony’ as the most important work of his life. The exhibition tells the stories of 18 people who are connected by their individual experiences of loss during the Troubles.

Mr. Davidson was unavailable for comment this week as he is in New York.

READ: Further blow as Clinton Centre set to lose £8,000 annual gallery income

It is expected that a portrait of President Clinton will be bequeathed by Mr. Davidson to the Centre in 2018 and this will remain its permanent home. The Centre is also set to host students from the US, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for a range of academic programmes.

Clinton Centre secretary Sean Henry said: “The exhibition was to launch the programme, the programme is not ready and the Centre is not ready.”

Mr. Henry is one of four ‘trustees’ on the Fermanagh University Partnership Board which is the governing body that has overall responsibility and accountability for the Clinton Centre.

Mr. Henry said works “to get it up to standard” include heating, ceiling, lighting and toilets.

A spokeswoman for Ulster University, Dublin City University and the Clinton Centre said: “It had been anticipated that the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen would host Colin Davidson’s ‘Silent Testimony’ exhibition to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Following an assessment of the Clinton Centre’s Higher Bridges Gallery space, a minor works scheme was agreed on to prepare the Gallery space to receive the exhibition.

"The contractor unexpectedly uncovered additional items of a structural nature which has militated against the intended works programme being completed on schedule. It is anticipated that a suitable programme of refurbishment, including attending to those additional unexpected matters, will be concluded later this year.
“Consequently, the Clinton Centre remains enthusiastic and excited with regard to the opportunity to host ‘Silent Testimony’ in the near future.”