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Armagh-born diplomat in China speaks of growing up during worst years of the Troubles

Geraldine McCafferty
Geraldine McCafferty

Diplomats born in Northern Ireland have told how the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement inspired them to join the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

As Northern Ireland marks the 25th anniversary of its historic referendum on Monday, FCDO civil servants have described the impact the peace deal had on them and how has helped shape their careers in diplomacy.

Staff from Northern Ireland at the forefront of delivering UK foreign policy around the world say they regularly point to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement to highlight the importance of dialogue as a path to peace.

Northern Ireland’s transformation to a peaceful, free and prosperous place with a bright future is held out as a beacon of hope to other areas around the world experiencing friction.

Dungannon-born diplomat Colin Crooks now serves as the UK’s Ambassador to South Korea having previously worked as the UK’s Ambassador to North Korea.

Geraldine McCafferty, 50, from County Armagh, is Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Beijing, China.

She said: “Growing up in Northern Ireland during the worst years of the Troubles gave me a desire to see more dialogue, less conflict.

“For me, the Good Friday Agreement is an example to us all of what can be achieved through dialogue, with hard work, trust and courage., It is a beacon of hope that the impossible can be achieved when people work together, quietly and resolutely and often invisibly behind the scenes.

“The Good Friday Agreement set Northern Ireland on a path for a different future. It ended a cycle of violence and retaliation, giving people the freedom to live their lives and to live their dreams once again.

“It delivered more than a peace process. It brought decision making closer to the people and created a shared confidence in our future.”

Colin, 54, from Dungannon, said: “Many of my early memories of childhood were of violence and conflict.

“The example of how Northern Ireland’s leaders back in the 1990s engaged in dialogue and compromise to reach a settlement, is one that has inspired me throughout my career as a diplomat.

“The idea that leaders can sit down together, even where very serious historical and personal grievances exist, is something that I think other countries can also learn from, not least here on the Korean peninsula, where we also hope to see peace and prosperity take hold one day.”

Colin Crooks in North Korea

Colin Crooks in North Korea

Belfast-born Josh Norton is a Policy Advisor on the FCDO’s Ukraine desk and was deployed to Kabul following the collapse of the Afghanistan government in 2021.

The 27-year-old said: “Unfortunately, I know conflict pretty well through my job. I’ve worked on some of the most devastating and sustained conflicts that the world continues to grapple with.

“The Belfast Good Friday Agreement demonstrates the prize that is on offer and shows when we pursue dialogue over conflict, we can end the violence.

“I was born in 1996, two years before the Belfast Good Friday Agreement was signed. It gave me a childhood of peace and one in which I could focus on my education and where it was perfectly normal for me to be able to go outside and play football with my friends from all different sides of the community without the fear of violence and that the generations before me suffered so deeply.

“It is always at the forefront of my mind as I’ve worked on other conflicts around the world. The Belfast Good Friday Agreement shows what can be achieved when we pull together in dialogue.”

Omagh-born Jill Gallard recently hosted King Charles on his first foreign visit since being crowned, in her role as the UK’s Ambassador to Germany.

Berlin-based Jill, 54, said: “The Belfast Good Friday Agreement is important to me because it marked an end to the weekly, often daily, loss of life in the Troubles, which was the backdrop of my childhood and teenage years.

“I was working as a young diplomat In Madrid when it was signed. I remember watching the TV coverage live and bursting into tears with relief that the violence was finally coming to an end.

“I’m convinced that part of the reason I became a diplomat was growing up in Northern Ireland. I remember being baffled about why the two sides of the community couldn’t talk to each other and resolve their differences in a peaceful way, with compromise on both sides. Dialogue makes such a difference.

“Belfast is a different city to the one I knew with constant bomb scares and a sense of always looking over your shoulder.”

Brian Davidson serves as the UK’s Consul General to Hong Kong.

The 58-year-old from Hollywood, County Down, said: “Not only did it bring peace and stability to the shores of Northern Ireland, but it literally helped unlock that creativity, the innovation and exposed to the rest of the world what we see as the real Northern Ireland.

“For me, the talking about the Good Friday Agreement and the process that led up to it is indeed something I do quite a lot in my job in the various countries I’ve served – not least in that whole process of dialogue is something that is fundamental to diplomacy.

“I thought very much about the need to build bridges between communities – that idea that you engage with people with whom you may have differing views, to build commonality, to build understanding, to acknowledge different points of view, to accept that, and to respect that.

“That is part of a process I think in all communities to build better understanding and bring people together.”

Belfast-born Martin Robinson represents the UK at the British Embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

He said: “For me, the Belfast Good Friday Agreement marked a turning moment in my life, moving from childhood to adulthood. I was 18 and the vote to approve the Belfast Agreement was the first democratic exercise I participated in. It was a vote for a better future.

“Since then, Northern Ireland’s prospects have been transformed. Over my diplomatic career from working in the Americas, south Asia, and now here in Europe, this story has come up time and again as an example of how hope, the creation of positive momentum, and the boldness to seize the moment, can all help to find a resolution to the seemingly most intractable issues.”

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