The US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, Joe Kennedy III has said Northern Ireland has “an awful lot to teach the world” regarding how people from different backgrounds come together to better the place they live in. 

Mr. Kennedy said this was relevant to places like the Middle East where conflict has been ongoing for decades between Israelis and Palestinians, with the latest episode seeing the death of thousands of Palestinians, the destruction of much of Gaza in response to an attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7.

“This is an issue that President Biden and the entire administration has been dedicating itself to, from the earliest days of October. And not just as a result of what happened on October 7, but a long-term commitment to that region and trying to create the space for a stable and lasting peace,” Mr. Kennedy said.

“I point to what Northern Ireland has been able to achieve as the lesson that I hope will eventually take hold in that region.

“Northern Ireland went through some very dark times, not just for 30 years, but for a long time before that, too with conflict and division, identity, nationality, country, creed amongst others.

“But one of the lasting lessons of this place is that the future is shared, there has to be space for everybody. And Northern Ireland, I think has an awful lot to teach the rest of the world.

“Political leaders in Northern Ireland today have a lot to teach leaders in a lot of places about what it means to understand and respect that difference and to create that space.

“And to know that particularly in a place like the Middle East where people of different backgrounds and beliefs that have called a region home for thousands of years, literally the cradle of history.

“There, there has to be a space for everybody to exist and that has to be one that recognises the sanctity of that future for a child, the children that we saw here, irrespective of how they define themselves, their ethnicity, their religion, their God.

“And the administration’s working very hard with a lot of other partners to try to make sure that there is a lasting ceasefire and the conditions for peace to be able to be built.”

Multiple agreements have been put forward to the Palestinians and Israelis to bring an end to the violence.

The most recent one was by President Joe Biden who urged both sides to accept it.

Mr. Kennedy said the US administration is “working very hard” with other partners to bring a lasting ceasefire and “conditions for peace to be able to be built”.

Israel has continued their military campaign in Gaza with some calling it genocide.

Mr. Kennedy was asked if the US was calling for the Israelis to begin an immediate ceasefire to allow progress toward a lasting agreement.

“The administration has offered multiple peace plans and multiple times they’ve been rejected by Hamas. There’s been offers put forward by a number of international partners and Hamas has not been willing to accept that.

“There needs to be what the administration has called for repeatedly is a ceasefire and one with steps to be able to build to a lasting peace and ceasefire.

“Those conditions have to be met. We need to make sure that there is buy-in from all those parties to be able to do so.”

Speaking about current conflicts, the backdrop for Mr. Kennedy’s visit to Enniskillen was to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day at Enniskillen Model Primary School.

“I thought it was a very moving ceremony.

“This day in the States obviously gets remembered and significant attention. A lot of that ends up being broadcasts of recognitions taking place in France or around the world.

“And it’s 80 years ago and so the number of folks that happen to have personal experience of that day is far less than it used to be.

“But for me to be in a school that has such a unique history, and in connection with the events of that day and the preparation and the history that came after it makes it very tangible. It makes it very real.”

Mr. Kennedy was also struck by the effort made to ensure the younger generations were being educated and given a sense of what happened on that day.

“I thought that was one of the issues that stuck with me and walking through the halls of the school was the effort that was concretely being made to ensure that a younger generation of children right, not high school students, but kids starting to get a sense of what happened that day. And the enormous cost and sacrifice that happened that day.

“And the connection then between the price that was paid by generations before so that they can enjoy a sense of liberty and freedom, which I think if you ask a five or six-year-old what those words mean, it’s a fairly difficult concept to try to wrestle with.

“But the fact that there’s such an intentional effort to make that connection at an early age and it goes a long way to help folks understand that significance. And so for me to be here for this, to see how the kids were responding to it, to see how it was being taught, was being internalised.

“And you know, as I said, my namesake had flown enough missions actually to return to the United States, volunteered for another one and never came home.

“And so it’s something that’s a connection that a lot of families around the world share, but you know, to be 3,000 miles closer to it is certainly meaningful.”

The Special Envoy also spoke about his role on “shining a spotlight on Northern Ireland” and was asked how he could sell Fermanagh to American businesses.

“This place is spectacular, right? It’s a beautiful part of a beautiful land and a wonderful people.

“I think the biggest challenge that Northern Ireland confronts with regards to an American audience is a narrative that the way that Northern Ireland is often interpreted in the US is not through the Northern Ireland of today, it’s through a conception of what Northern Ireland was 30 years ago.

“And part of my job I think, has been trying to shine a spotlight on various people in places that can help tell that other story, right and that other side of the story and say, Yes, we can have this history that is well known. You also have this present that was earned as a result of extraordinarily hard work to make Northern Ireland the happiest region in the entire UK, that Belfast is the safest city in the entire UK,” he explained adding that 1,200 international companies are located in Northern Ireland with 230 of them from the United States.

“My job of being the number one cheerleader and fan and champion for this place has gotten an awful lot easier because of the work that’s been done here over the course of even my tenure by others. I mean, the fact that you’ve got the institutions up and running, the fact that you’ve got First Minister and Deputy First Minister that come from different backgrounds and different traditions and have a different view long term on what Northern Ireland will look like.

“But the fact that they are intentionally and deliberately being at events together and making space for each other and talking about how they’ve got a vision for Northern Ireland but that doesn’t mean the other version can’t also find space here too.

“The fact that they’re governing and there’s tough decisions to be made, but they’re governing.

“The fact that you’ve got now an advantage of the Windsor Framework that provides a unique opportunity for Northern Ireland, unlike any other region in the world.

“And it’s up to everybody. Now we’re going forward to make those potentials to convert them into successes.

“But there’s a lot of hard work that’s being done every day to do that. And that’s what’s got to keep happening going forward.”