Besieged Bill finds oasis of peace in Belfast

September 11, 1998

Bill Clinton came bearing gifts to Belfast's Springvale campus last week. Suddenly the long talked-about and much-hyped "peaceline" campus in Belfast is just Pounds 6 million short of its Pounds 70 million kickstart figure.

The International Fund for Ireland set up by the British and Irish governments in the mid-1980s used the occasion of the president's visit to announce a further Pounds 3.5 million towards what is now termed the "educational village".

Fund chairman William McCarter said its initial Pounds 5 million pump-priming had helped lever substantial monies from the government and other grant-giving bodies.

A makeshift marquee had been erected on the grassy, rocky site to welcome the president and first lady directly after his keynote address in the prestigious Waterfront Hall and just before his 60-mile flight to bomb-torn Omagh.

So Springvale, in the end, earned few headlines, even locally.

Yet it was where Clinton called the local MP, Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, by his first name, stressed his recognition of Mr Adams's role in pushing forward the peace process and said: "Thank you, sir."

Then he and Tony Blair performed the official sod-cutting ceremony, still inside the marquee.

Patrick Murphy, director of the Belfast Institute of Further Education, which will run the project with the University of Ulster, said it was a symbol of hope for the future of Northern Ireland.

"Here in west Belfast," he said, "the institute and the university are proud to have you, Mr President, inaugurate an education project that will allow everyone, whatever their background, access to learning for which they will receive accreditation and that will allow them to progress to their desired level in a radical new educational structure."

Mr Murphy said education in Northern Ireland had traditionally been divisive both along social and sectarian lines.

But Springvale would provide a lifeline for those excluded by the province's grammar school system and bring together Protestants and Catholics.

"Today we begin the new Northern Ireland," Mr Murphy went on. "In this context, Springvale does not just represent a new educational initiative - it is a symbol of the new Northern Ireland."

University of Ulster vice-chancellor, Lord Smith of Clifton, said the building of the new campus was "a triumph for the people of the Falls and Shankill".

The first phase of the project - a community outreach centre - could now be completed within two years. It will provide around 1,500 third-level university places and 1,500 further education opportunities.

Patrick Murphy's diary, page 10

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